Learn to be your best advocate as you navigate your grief journey

Long before I became a widow, I learned that saying no, often times, means you’re saying yes to yourself. You may be asking to whom does this apply? And the answer is to everyone. However, I think this is especially important for those of us coping with loss at anytime, but most definitely during the Holidays. Whether you are days, months or years into your grief journey, you will discover there are times when post loss life is just harder than what you have come to expect, and we don’t often know how to advocate for our own self care and mental health. This is where learning to say no can be incredibly beneficial. There are so many situations where this concept is applicable – but for this post – I am going to focus on your friends and family, and offers for social interactions.

Let me start by prefacing that what may be difficult, if not gut wrenching, for one person, might very well be the thing that another person finds quite comforting. And this is why explaining where YOU are at, is imperative!

Sadly, it’s not always other people we have to learn to say no to. Sometimes, we have to learn to say no to ourselves and our own expectations. To be able to confidently say no, we must first feel we have the right to do so, and that starts by accepting that what we feel is real and that it deserves to be respected. It is in those times, that we MUST speak our truth – GUILT FREE.

We know those who love us want what’s best for us – but let’s be honest – they aren’t mind readers. It is our responsibility to help them help us. We do this by being honest about what we can do right now, what we can and can’t engage in, and to share how we are feeling about the upcoming Holidays.

Perhaps celebrating the Holiday the way you have in the past makes you want to run and hide. You need to accept that and determine what you think will work best for your and your immediate family. Perhaps this year you take a trip, or have a different meal. Maybe it means you don’t make that special dish that your loved one was crazy about. Maybe you eat at a different house than you have in the past. Perhaps you might feel that you ‘should’ set a place for your person at the table, visit their grave, hang your special ornaments, play certain songs, put up their stocking, continue long established family traditions….but you don’t want to. Or maybe you feel exactly the opposite and all those things would bring you great comfort. Either way, your friends and family are un-sure about what will offer comfort to your weary heart. So speaking up is actually a roadmap of your feelings that they can then navigate.

Another situation we face when grieving, is that we are not the only one missing our person, and we have to be able to respect others needs, while remaining true to ourselves and what feels right for us. Here is an example – maybe you have a family member (a child, brother, sister or even a parent) of your loved one who is pushing for things to go a way you don’t feel comfortable with. What do you do? You state clearly and kindly what you will and won’t participate in. You may have to say, “I know this is important to you, but that would be very difficult for me, and I don’t want to control you anymore than I want to be controlled, so it is with respect that I decline to _____________ this year.”

By stating your no, you said what made you uncomfortable and by doing that, you said yes to yourself. We do have to give allowances for different feelings though, and we should give everyone the freedom to honor that person as it is fitting to them without judging, blaming or shaming them, and without feeling as if that is being done to us either.

Finally, we will learn that often times, what we think will be our undoing, is actually worse leading up to the dreaded event, than it actually is. You might want to have a plan A and a plan B, that allow for you to change your mind. For example, if you’ve said you won’t be attending the big family dinner, but wake up the morning of, and actually don’t feel like a bulldozer plowed you over, and that you don’t want to be alone, as you thought you would – make room for that plan. Let your friends or family know that you might decide to show up at the last minute, but that right now, you aren’t sure how you will feel, and that you’d like to be able to do either. What if the opposite happens and you had planned to attend an event and wake up and can barely get out of bed? Plan for that as well. Let others know you’d like to come, but that in the event you just can’t, you need to know they won’t be upset with you. Don’t agree to be responsible for anything. That way, no one is left holding the bag, if you aren’t able to make it. Sometimes, taking the pressure off of having to to make a firm decision can alleviate a lot of stress.

Truth be told, we really don’t know how we will feel on any given day, but we can plan according to how we are feeling today, and ask those who love us to respect not only our current request, but to also respect our right to change our mind.

That is the gift of being able to say no to what makes us unsettled, while saying yes to ourselves and honoring our unique, and often changing feelings.

One thing I know with certainty – is that you will never know for sure how the holidays will feel from year to year, and the best thing you can do, is to be as gracious to yourself as you would be to anyone else. Grief is fluid. It changes and it morphs and we have to learn to be able to change as well. And we also must be able to advocate on our behalf – whether others understand or not. Our job is not to get them to “get it”, it is to get them to respect that they have no idea what we are feeling, and that we are doing the best we can. Period. Your job is to do you. Their job is to try to be empathetic, but whether they are or not – you must be true to yourself! And sometimes that involves kindly and respectfully saying no.

If you are struggling with how to handle the holidays – I’d encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:

How do I feel about this approaching Holiday – am I dreading it with every pore of my being or does it feel ok this year?

What can I do to manage that anticipated challenge?

What are healthy ways I can cope with my pain as I get through this season?

How can I be respectful of others and how they want to celebrate that is different than what I want or need?

Where do I need to mange my own expectations, accept what I am feeling and advocate on my behalf?

Last, who do I need to share this information with so that my plans won’t affect theirs.

As I said earlier. We all have different ways of coping with our loss. Accepting our feelings, making a plan, notifying those necessary and honoring different choices, can allow for a more manageable time during a most difficult season. Regardless of what you do or don’t do – experience your feelings – they have a purpose and neglecting them won’t make your pain any more tolerable. Grief is heavy, it can be relenting at times, but it’s been my experience that the searing you feel in the early days, does not scorch your soul in the same way, once you are further down your path. It never goes away, but it can soften. So give yourself time. Self care is critical during the Holidays, but especially when you are grieving. And remember – you are not alone. Reach out to those who can relate to your pain. You were never meant to carry this alone ❤️

From my broken and reassembled heart to yours,