Thinking ahead to Christmas Day, or whichever day you celebrate in your faith, overwhelming feelings arise in you. Your heart is a mixture of emotions – on the one hand it will be good to be with people you love, but on the other hand, the person or people you care about are not going to be there. Maybe you will even be all on your own.
When you think of your loved one, your heart sinks; you can almost feel it contract as you realise how much you miss them; and your energy turns inwards.
That’s when the bah-humbug blues threaten to strike.
How can you possibly concentrate on having a good Christmas or festive season when the person or people you really care about are no longer here? Everything pales into insignificance when it comes to the death of someone you love. Nothing else matters, except the fact that they are no longer with you.
The trouble with this is that it feels horrible. Sadness, yearning, tearfulness, mourning, feelings of loss and all the other myriad of emotions that make up what we call grief do not feel lovely. They feel painful. Sometimes so much that it literally feels like your heart will break.
I am here to tell you that there is only one way to manage these overwhelming feelings, and especially at Christmas. And that is to...
...stop trying to manage them.
You can, of course, do your best to stop them coming at particular times because of how ‘inappropriate’ it is. You can channel your feelings into exercise, fundraising activities, or work. You can busy yourself with Christmas duties. All of these have their place. The trouble is that none of them necessarily allow for the feelings to be fully felt.
Imagine the house in which you live. If a friend you want to see knocks on the door, you will gladly fling open the door and invite them in. Alternatively, if someone you don’t want to see at all comes knocking, you might hide and pretend you’re not in. Or you might keep the door locked and simply not answer, or (especially if you can see them coming!) you might close the curtains, turn off the lights and behave as if no-one is at home when you hear the knock, or the ring of the doorbell.
Overwhelming feelings are like those visitors. When ones we like come knocking, we can’t wait to let them in. We love them being around, and often we try to get them to stay, and mourn their loss when they leave. (As in ‘I had such a good day yesterday! What’s happened overnight, I feel so awful this morning.’)
If feelings visit that we don’t like the look of, we batten down the hatches, ignore the knocking, and do everything we can to prevent them entering. We pretend we don’t see/sense/feel/hear them lurking around outside, needing to find a way in.
The trouble with both of these methods of ‘managing feelings’ is that neither work. They both appear to work – surely it’s a good thing to allow ‘good’ feelings the opportunity to stay? Surely it makes sense to do your best to barricade against the ‘bad’ feelings?
Because when you do either of these things you are ultimately bashing up against what is already happening. And that is a recipe for suffering. Sometimes prolonged suffering.
It is in the non-acceptance of what is, and the persisting in believing that this is ‘bad’ that trouble starts to brew.
Feelings by their very nature need to be felt. When that happens, even if it is the most uncomfortable, painful and horrible thing you can imagine, they don’t stay. They will pass on through the house (especially if you have left the back door and windows open too, so they can easily disappear again).
The best Christmas gift you can give yourself (and everyone else) is just let the feelings be there, whatever they are.
Let them enter. Be neither attached to them nor diffident. Let them deliver their message. And then let them leave.
This is a lot of ‘letting’ happening! And that means not controlling; not being in charge; not determining what will or will not work. It simply means ‘letting go’ and ‘letting God’, as the saying goes. So stop bashing up against what life is giving you, and instead simply allow it to be there.
If it is in the form of feelings that you don’t like, then know that if you let them be there -they will pass. As in the famous words ‘this too shall pass’, it will happen. That is the nature of feelings, they come and they go. You can see this if you look back on your life so far. It’s been full of ups and downs, hasn’t it? By that I mean feelings as well as events. And you have still survived!
I fully learnt about this when my husband died in 2011 (that was just before Christmas, on 1st December). I had never before experienced the intense pain I then felt. But I knew without a shadow of a doubt that no matter how excruciating the feeling was, I had to let it be there, as this would be the quickest way through to the other side. That is what I did; and last year, when I was grieving my parents who had died unexpectedly in the same week, the sorrow at losing my husband was simply not activated. It had been felt, the messages the feelings brought were heard, and I have now moved forward in my life. No need for activating past repressed feelings – they are not there to be felt.
Moral of the story – if you’re sitting at the celebration table and you feel overcome with tears, let them be there. They’ve just come for a knock at the door, wanting to be with you for a bit. If you say no to them by closing the door, they won’t go away. They’ll just save themselves up for later – and ultimately will cause havoc in the physical body.
If you feel cross or angry, fearful or anxious, or anything else, take some time out, even if it is just 5 minutes in the toilet, and allow those feelings to be there. It is okay to do this, it really is. If you feel like shouting but don’t want to make a noise, scream in your head instead. Imagine it all, it does work. And if you want to have some sense of control about it all, go deeply into the feelings for no longer than 5 minutes, and then deliberately focus for the next 5 minutes on what you are grateful for, right now, in your life.
So give yourself a gift if you or someone you know will be missing a loved one this festive season. Remember the famous saying ‘What you feel, you can heal’. Take the time you need to feel, let it happen, and thus create space for enjoyment, or even just okayness, once more.
Jane Duncan Rogers’ life was turned upside down when her husband died in 2011.
She now runs Before I Go Solutions, a not for profit social enterprise dedicated to helping people make good end of life plans, much more than just a will or a funeral plan.
Find out how prepared you are by taking her free quiz ‘How Prepared Are You?’
A will is one of the foundation stones of a good end of life plan. If you haven’t yet got a will in place you can do yours for free at Bequeathed