Let's normalize grieving over the holidays

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Opinion: It's OK to grieve during the holidays and it's something that should be normalized.

If there’s any holiday tradition we should leave behind, it’s the pressure to pretend to be happy during December — even when someone is going through a difficult time.

The holidays are my favourite time of year. I love wearing ugly yet comfy Christmas sweaters, watching classics like Elf and Christmas Vacation, baking cookies, walking around and admiring the lights glistening in the night, spending lots of time picking out gifts for my loved ones and gleefully thinking about how they’ll react after unwrapping their presents.

Yet, even I will never fault someone if this is not a jolly time for them — especially not this year.

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Just because it’s the holidays, it does not mean that grief, financial concerns, mental health issues, and everything else takes a break. Families are mourning the loss of their loved ones. Many, especially those who lost their jobs, are concerned over whether or not they can afford holiday dinners and gifts, in addition to their bills.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is also prominent in the winter, and the Canadian Mental Health Association said that two to three per cent of Canadians experience it in their lifetime. Even without SAD, the stress that comes with trying to create a picture-perfect holiday is tough for anyone’s mental health.

Even someone like me who loves the holidays is expecting this Christmas to be tougher than usual. As it was for many, 2020 was a rough year for me — and has been even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January, my grandpa died after at least eight years of dealing with dementia. My grandpa’s love of music and community, along with his sense of humour, were just some of the ways he influenced me to become the person I am today.

Even though I was prepared to say goodbye for years, the grief from his death hit me harder than anything else I felt in my life. My social battery drained and my anxiety rose.

I skipped events I was looking forward to because I felt too mentally drained to enjoy myself. I tried to figure out how to keep myself busy and take my mind off things without over-working myself to the point of burnout. The latter happened before while grieving and dealing with other stressful times in my life and I didn’t want to go through it again.

In March, I began to feel like myself again and ready to plan for a future filled with visiting family and friends out of town and sing-screaming along to My Chemical Romance songs in an arena with my friends. Then, the pandemic hit and I experienced another form of grief from losing opportunities to attend events, hug my friends and relatives, and so much more — even while understanding it’s necessary to keep my community as safe as possible.

I worried about possibly getting the virus and spreading it to others, especially since I live with my parents, my dad works in healthcare, and I would not want to pass it on to them or someone else high-risk. It took me at least a month to feel comfortable walking around the neighbourhood.

After I started working again, and at one point juggling a part-time office job with freelancing, in addition to adjusting to physical distancing, masks, and hand sanitizer, I felt more comfortable. Setting aside some time to listen to music, read books, and play Animal Crossing also made me feel better.

When November came, however, I realized it would be a tougher Christmas. I last saw my grandpa on Christmas Day in 2019, and seeing him in rough shape during our last visit broke my heart. Unlike previous years, potlucks, cookie exchanges, and dining out with my friends would not be part of my holidays —and those annual Christmas get-togethers kept me motivated through previous difficult times in my life.

It’s not the first year anyone’s grieving losing their loved ones, their jobs, and/or their holiday traditions, but 2020 has been a difficult year for many, regardless of any silver linings.

I’m not an expert on grief, but I know it’s frustrating when you open up about your feelings to someone only to be dismissed with comments to shove them aside. Saying something like “Stop being a Grinch and cheer up already” is no better than saying to someone dealing with depression to “just be happy.”

For those grieving during this holiday season, do whatever feels best for you. There’s a great blog post on whatsyourgrief.com called “64 Tips for Coping with Grief at the holiday” that has a variety of suggestions, including listening to your loved one’s favourite holiday music or another tune if they couldn’t stand holiday music.

During the holidays, I will be taking part in Christmas traditions that I can do from my home safely, like watching movies and baking, while making time for phone calls, video chats, and winter walks. On the not-so-great days, I will do everything I can to cope, from thinking about funny Christmas memories with my Grandpa over the years to writing in my journal about how I’m feeling.

If I need to cry, I will cry as much as I need to until I feel like I can get back up again. Regardless of the occasion, sometimes, you need those days to acknowledge those feelings and let them out. Yes, that includes the holidays.

As we talk about all the changes that come with the “new normal,” let’s normalize grieving during the holidays.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.