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Do you know Sarah McLachlan’s lovely, haunting Wintersong (from her album of the same title)? The lyrics speak to her deep feelings around the loss of a loved one (in this case, her mother who died just before Christmas 2002). Listening to her beginning lines, you sense her great sadness, longing, loneliness, yearning and searching …

The lake is frozen over

The trees are white with snow

And all around reminders of you

Are everywhere I go

For those of us whose loved ones have died, the holidays can often trigger a resurgence of our feelings of grief. It is as though a great spot light is shining down on us, highlighting any feelings of sadness, guilt, regret, anger, depression or anxiety. We might find ourselves feeling jealous, resentful and impatient with those around us who are in celebratory, happy moods. We may sense that others want us to join in the festivities when we are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and uninterested in joining in, finding ourselves simply wanting to withdraw or be somewhere else. We may connect deeply as Sarah continues her song:

It’s late and morning’s in no hurry

But sleep won’t set me free

I lie awake and try to recall

How your body felt beside me

When silence gets too hard to handle

And the night too long

I believe it is important to know that what we are feeling and experiencing is common among many who find themselves bereaved and grieving, especially during a time when celebratory expectations are high. My encouragement to you is to make spaces and times where you give yourself permission to lean into these emotions, to be with and experience them when you find yourself in a place that is comfortable and nurturing. Rather than trying to “switch off” your “negative” emotions (as others around you may be encouraging you to do), choose to be in an “and” space, allowing yourself to lean into your full range of emotions, both positive and negative, as they arise in the moment. Instead of judging them as “bad or good,” try to experience your feelings without judgment (perhaps with curiosity instead), thus allowing them to move through you rather than become stuck.

Sarah does this in her song:

This is how I see you

In the snow on Christmas morning

Love and happiness surround you

As you throw your arms up to the sky

I keep this moment by and by

And in allowing herself to be with her feelings and her process, she also finds her reconnection to her loved one once again:

Sense the joy fills the air

And I daydream and I stare

Up at the tree and I see

Your star up there

During this holiday season, may you grant yourself these opportunities and openings to lean into the experience of your emotions. And may you find Blessings and Peace throughout.

Carol S. Miller, LCSW, Bereavement Coordinator

Casa de la Luz Hospice