Tag Archives: support

Coping with Holiday Grief

Holidays can be a difficult time.

There’s the stress of  planning, of cooking a meal, of traveling to destinations. There’s the stress of family. Of gathering everyone together. Of  relationships that may be less than ideal. And the feeling of absence of loved ones, either through distance or death.

It’s now been over a year since my father has passed away. This past Halloween was the second year without him and tomorrow will be the second Thanksgiving. People have told me that it will, “get easier” but so far that hasn’t been my experience. I find each holiday, each event and milestone to be equally as difficult as the last.

There’s a constant feeling of, “he should be here.” This past June as I sat at my graduation, waiting to walk for my Early Childhood degree, I had difficulty containing my tears and my emotions. I kept trying to focus on the speakers, on those sitting around me, on the number of seats in the venue… on anything to distract myself from the running thought in my head that he should be here.  Because he should have been there. While I was proud of my accomplishments, my feelings of loss were overwhelming.

My feelings of loss exist outside of holidays and milestones. Perhaps this is just another stage of grief. Or perhaps this is a lasting feeling. I mean, I miss my dad and it follows logic that I would feel that loss even more so in times of heightened significance. Holidays. Birthdays. Graduations.

People that play such a vital, important role in our lives surely would be missed. Surely their absence wouldn’t be overlooked.  I don’t want to dwell on the sadness of his absence. I don’t want to allow my feelings of sadness to become a surrogate replacement for the place where, “he should be”. So how can I, and others dealing with loss, handle the upcoming holidays (and other milestones) ?

Griefnet.org offers several articles on dealing with grief during the holidays. Below are a few points I found to be particularly helpful:

  • Holidays often magnify feelings of loss of a loved one. It is important and natural to experience the sadness that comes. To block such feelings is unhealthy. Keep the positive memory of the loved one alive.
  • Often after the first year the people in your life may expect you to be over it. We are never over it but the experience of many bereaved is that eventually they enjoy the holidays again.
  • Don’t forget, anticipation of any holiday is so much worse than the actual holiday.

Keeping the positive memory of a loved one alive, by celebrating and remembering them can help to cope with the grief of loss. Here are a few ideas on how to do so:

  • Light a candle to honor your loved one, perhaps during holiday gatherings as a reminder of them.
  • Create a memory box by asking family members and friends to write down a good memory they have of your loved one. These may be shared as a group or viewed at a later point privately.
  • Look at pictures and/or videos of your loved one. Often times these will spark memories and encourage conversation of good times.
  • At a gathering, encourage family and friends to make colleges of words and images that remind them of your loved one from old magazines, scissors and glue.

Overall, be gentle with yourself. There is no magic amount of time designated for grieving. There’s also no “right” way you should be feeling. Do what feels comfortable to you and allow yourself to feel however it is you feel.

Focus on Success

Some days are filled with frustration. With waiting. With anger. With lack of movement. With lack of change.

Some days, despite our best efforts, we don’t receive the things we need and require. We don’t accomplish the goals we set out to reach.

And we don’t hear the words we need to hear.

On some days, this is due to our own inability to hear them. Those around us are speaking words of praise, acknowledging our accomplishments and our successes. Providing support and encouragement in continuing to succeed and offering constructive criticism in an effort to encourage our growth in those areas. On some days, we are lost in our own minds, our focus elsewhere, and we do not hear all the positive feedback that we receive.

On other days, there is no one speaking words of praise. On these days we must speak praise to ourselves. We must acknowledge our own accomplishments and successes, encouraging ourselves to continue moving forward in our goals. On these days we must be patient with ourselves and realize that despite the lack of outside support and encouragement, we are doing a “good job.” We are doing the best we can and we will continue to do better. We must be kind to ourselves and speak positively of our accomplishments, noticing our strengths and weaknesses while weighing them equally.

At times I become frustrated as I continue to look for praise & approval from those who have never given me such. From those who continually choose to overlook my strengths and instead focus on my weaknesses.  I am not perfect. Neither are you or anyone else. We all have our own strengths and our own weaknesses. To focus solely on either, in ourselves and others, is neither kind or productive.

We must try to focus on the strengths in ourselves and others.  Constantly receiving negative feedback (about our weaknesses, our failures, our mistakes) while neglecting any positive feedback (about our successes, our accomplishments) doesn’t make us feel good — whether the talk is coming from another person or ourselves. A focus primarily on negatives (even if the goal is improvement) brings our thoughts to “I-can’t-do-it” and provides supporting examples of such beliefs.

Identifying and acknowledging strengths provides a foundation on which we can build on. A focus primarily on strengths provides examples of times we have been successful, allows us to examine how we were able to succeed and empowers us by identifying methods that have previously resulted in success.

I know when I’m told that I’m, “doing a good job” I tend to not believe such. What does “doing a good job” mean? How is it defined? Statements like that are generic and don’t provide any supporting “evidence” that I, or anyone else, really did a good job. In acknowledging success we must be specific. For example, “You did a good job at setting the table. You really paid close attention to where the forks needed to be placed.” Not only did I offer praise but I gave focus to a specific aspect of success and used “you” statements to show objectiveness, rather than “I feel…” or “I think…” statements, which show my subjective view.

We could all benefit from an increased focus on strengths. While there is a space and time for constructive criticism, we as people also need to hear what we are doing well. We need to hear praise and acknowledgement of our accomplishments. We need to hear support and encouragement. We need to hear these things from ourselves but we also need to hear them from those around us.

Can we try to not only focus on the positives, but also communicate them – to others and to ourselves? I truly believe that we are all doing the best we can in this moment, given the knowledge, resources and support we currently have. Let’s tell those around us that we see the accomplishments they’re making and the things they are doing well. Let’s help them build their foundation for continued success and build upon our own in the process.

#ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear

Across the country (and even over seas!) young mothers are uniting in a discussion on a common topic – their experiences as a young parent. The hash tag #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear was started by blogger and former teen mom, Natasha Vianna about her frustration with comments made to young mothers. You can read more about how and why #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear started in Natasha’s blog post at the PushBack.

Clearly Natasha struck a chord with other current and former young moms, who have utilized the hash tag and shared their own frustrations and experiences. As a former young mom, I too joined in on the discussion. I was 19 years old when my first daughter was born and by 23 I had two daughters. The stares I received and the comments people have felt the need to share with me have, at times, been appalling.

Shortly after leaving my abusive, dead-beat boyfriend I was at my postpartum check up. My beautiful 6-week old daughter was sleeping in her car seat, as I sat in the waiting room filling out papers.  Two middle-age ladies who were sitting near by “whispered” to one other about how I was, “Just another one of those girls.”  It sadly wasn’t the first nor the last negative comment I have heard.

You’re doing a good job… for a young parent (& why is that surprising?)

Why didn’t you marry your [abusive] baby’s father?

Your life held such potential [it still does]

Really? You have two kids?

Its irresponsible of you to want your own identity and interests

 How unfair that teens are having babies when there are couples who are unable to conceive [no correlation]

I was fortunate to connect with a young mom group in my area at that time called MELD. Once a week several other young moms, myself and our children would meet. For the first hour we shared dinner with one another and our children. Afterwards our kids would be watched by volunteers and the remaining time would be split between sharing and education. As we shared our experiences with one another, there seemed to be an endless supply of rude, appalling things we were being told.  Though I have graduated from the group, I still keep in contact with most of the moms. I have also made amazing, supportive friendships with many young parents online.

Despite assumptions and stereotypes placed on young mothers, we are succeeding. I’ve completed a college degree and am working on a second one to become a social worker (working with young parents and their children). I’m a member of my school’s honor society and my GPA is a 3.549. My young mom friends have also graduated high school and gone to college.

As Katie of A Girl Like Me blogs: “We’re not all on welfare, and we’re not all party animals or sluts or druggies like the girls who give the rest of us a bad name. We love and take care of our kids just as much as ‘normal’ aged mothers do. We’re still intelligent and productive members of society. We grow up with our kids, and I feel like we learn more life lessons that way. The young moms I know are some of the wisest people in my life.”

Natasha Vianna blogs that, “Hearing the success stories of young moms can sometimes anger people even more. If we’re not falling into the ‘stereotype’ and have made something of our lives, we are told we are still a bad example! We are told we are promoting the concept of becoming a teen mom. When we fail, we get the ‘I told you so!”

The stereotyping and judgments placed on young parents is appalling and damaging to their success and the success of their children. General assumptions, such as the ones shared on #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear can be truly damaging. We are empowered by speaking out and sharing our experiences as young moms. I encourage all young moms, current and former, to join in the  conversation on twitter #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear

Mental Illness Awareness

Today is National Depression Screening Day (US)

Everyone experiences stress, sadness and anxiety sometimes. Unlike the normal emotional experiences of sadness, such as during a loss or major life event (for example: divorce, retirement, becoming unemployed), depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with one’s thoughts, behavior, mood, ability to work, sleep, eat or enjoy once pleasurable activities.

Depression and other mood disorders can not be seen on an x-ray. Yet mental illness is just as painful. And the stigma associated with the disease often prevents many from seeking help and getting treated. Without treatment, the frequency of depressive illness as well as the severity of symptoms tends to increase over time. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide.

Symptoms of Depression include:

• persistently sad or irritable mood
• pronounced changes in sleep, appetite and energy
• difficulty thinking, concentrating and remembering
• physical slowing or agitation
• lack of interest in or pleasure from activities that were once enjoyed
• feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness and emptiness
• recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
• persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain

National Depression Screening Day (NDSD) gives people the opportunity to take a free, anonymous questionnaire assessing their risk for mood and anxiety disorders and provides referral information for treatment. Visit www.HelpYourSelfHelpOthers.org to find a local organization offering depression and anxiety screenings or take a screening online today. More information can be found about NDSD at Mental Health America.

NDSD is also part of the larger Mental Illness Awareness Week, an effort to bring awareness to mental illnesses. To learn more about mental illnesses, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness by advocating mental health awareness, support, education and recovery.