The Holidays are a notoriously hard time for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. For all of us women struggling with infertility, the Holidays are a time when we grieve the lost opportunity of a new life. What is more difficult is that many of the traditions and rituals of the Holidays are often centered around children. For those who have experienced loss during pregnancy, the Holidays can be a strong reminder of the absence of that little life.
My last miscarriage happened on Thanksgiving Day last year. This year on Thanksgiving, it was a tough day. It is also hard not to think of what could have or should have been as we approach this Christmas. There are some things that people can do to try and cope with their feelings of grief and loss this Holiday season. Although no one can really take away the pain, there are ways to help manage it.
1. Respect yourself and your feelings. Don’t beat yourself up for being sad or for grieving. Don’t tell yourself that you should be “over it,” when deep inside you know you are not. People often feel pressure to feel cheery and bright during the Holidays. But when you are coping with a loss, it is often impossible to feel cheery or bright. When you acknowledge and accept how you are really feeling, it is often easier to function without lashing out at others or losing patience with yourself. Just say to yourself, “I am really feeling sad today, and that is okay.”
2. Give yourself permission to say no. Are you dreading going to your cousin’s annual holiday party because you know that several pregnant people will be there, including your cousin’s wife? Well you know what? I am giving you permission to say no. We are only human, and many times our emotions are raw. We often need to protect ourselves to retain our sanity. This is not the time to be a hero. If people get mad at you for saying no, then too bad. Last year at this time, due to our miscarriage, my husband and I were dreading the holidays. If it were not for our little girl, we probably would not have left the house or celebrated at all because we were so sad. We participated in some things, but said no to others, so we could grieve and heal.
3. Bunk Tradition. We all have dreams and ideals of how the Holidays should be. When we have suffered a loss, there is a huge hole in that ideal, and traditions that were once joyful may seem more like a nightmare this year. It is okay to change things up a bit to make it more manageable. One year my husband and I took off the day after Christmas, missing many family holiday parties, to go to the Caribbean for a week. Christmas was very hard for us that year, and getting away was just what we needed. Consider doing something different this season, like having your Holiday dinner at a restaurant, or going over to a friend’s house. You might even want to start new traditions. This might make it a little bit easier to cope with your loss this Holiday season.
4. Have an escape plan. If there are just some events that you cannot possibly get out of, go, but make sure to have an escape plan if things get to be too much. Maybe you have another event that you have to attend after this one? (They don’t have to know “the event” is really a CSI marathon in your pajamas!) Maybe you are not feeling that great? (Truth is, you may be feeling just fine physically, but far from fine emotionally) Keep your time limited if you need to, and don’t feel guilty about it for a second.
5. Try to have a little fun. There ARE some joys in the Holiday season. Even when you are sad and feeling completely overwhelmed with grief, there are some distractions that can lift your spirits. Watching the classic movie Scrooged while drinking some eggnog or watching the snowflakes from your window while sitting in front of your fireplace can be a great way to unwind and forget about your troubles, even if for just a few hours. In short, be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. Be understanding of your emotions. Give yourself space. Let yourself off the hook just this once. Shout “Humbug” from the rafters. The Holidays will pass soon enough, and you have permission to pass on the Holidays.