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Hope to cope with bereavement during the festive season
The shor-sharaba and dhols of Navratri have long passed, and the diyas – and the blingy sarees – for the Diwali parties have now been packed away.
And yet, families are busy trying to adjust their calendars to fit in more social events and homes are still bustling with excitement of Christmas and the upcoming holidays!
Diwali and Christmas are cheerful festivals for young and old to enjoy, however, there are some families, who, amid the season of joy, are copying with grief, as they spend their festive season without a loved one in their midst.
The death of a loved one is always distressing, and bereavement has various effects on different people. What coping strategies do individuals and families adopt at festive occasions?
A young lady* who lost her mother recently had a particularly difficult Diwali this year. “The constant need to be cheerful brings me down,” she revealed. “There is an expectation to be enthusiastic and bubbly, and portray happiness despite my inner state of numbing grief. Like being forced to eat karela and pretending to like it…”
She avoided social events because the idea of pretending not only gave her more grief, but also the fear that her gloom would bring other people’s spirits down.
Another person also currently grieving said that festivals conjure up too many memories of the loved one who has passed away. Mourners remember that person who was always first on the dance floor, the eager trooper who gathered all the kids together for games and firecrackers, the one with the sweet tooth who happily ate all the mithai! Such recollections can produce feelings of anxiety and depression.
Learning how to cope
Rebuilding happy memories can help in moving forward. Old rituals that were a huge part of the deceased person can be revamped or built into a new way of doing things. For example, one person in mourning said, “My husband loved sweets. He would know which sweet had been prepared in the kitchen the minute he walked through the door. After he passed away, the first year was very difficult and I avoided eating or making sweets. However, as time passed, I realised how sad he would be, knowing that I had given up making his favourite sweets. This year, I decided at Diwali to make his favourite sweets and give them away to family and friends.”
Psychologists say acceptance goes a long way in coping with the rollercoaster of emotions. It can be emotionally and physically draining to pretend to be happy. Letting people know within your social network of your status and ability to participate in gatherings will allow you to handle and plan the season better. Incorporating other family members and having their input may also help put things in perspective. Although accepting all invitations might feel traumatic, it might be good to attend a few close family gatherings. Choosing to be around people who make you feel comfortable and safe can help with the grieving process.
Honour and pay respect to your loved one’s memories
There are many positive ways to remember those that have passed away, for example, giving to charity in their honour or remembrance, fulfilling any last desires or wishes that they might have had and not lived to complete, or participating in activities that the deceased loved or enjoyed. One person fulfilled her recently deceased grandmother’s wish to donate her furniture and belongings to a women’s shelter. It turned out to be a satisfying way of spending Christmas amidst the grieving. Another person joined a support group as a volunteer to help others with their grieving process because his own departed father was a believer in helping others.
A very close family friend, who lost his father, shared similar thoughts. He spoke about how he misses the presence of his father in terms of his voice, constant phone calls and support. He mentioned that his father used to be the first one to wish him on Dusshera, and recalls his blessings. Today, he wishes his kids on his father’s behalf and shares with them the happy memories of his childhood spent with his dad during festivals. He tries to incorporate his father’s values and traditions into how they celebrate festivals today. He very fittingly said, “You don’t forget the person, but learn to turn the negative thoughts into positive ways to remember them and hope that they are with you in some way and watching over you.”
No one can fill the void of the person who has left. Be gentle on yourself, allow yourself to feel the sorrow. But recognise the signs of anxiety and depression. Do not allowthese to destroy the positive and vibrant memories of your loved ones.
When everyone around you is celebrating, it can be difficult to mourn, but remember even this is helping you to move forward. The people may have gone, but their memories remain. Keeping this in mind try and embrace the inherent difficulties of the season and soldier on. The next time a special occasion comes – a birthday or anniversary – you will feel more in control, maybe a little less anxious, a little less saddened and soon it will become much easier to celebrate life again, with your loved ones watching over you.
A big pyar ki jhappi to all our readers who have lost a special someone in their lives and have faced the challenge of Diwali and – now look to Christmas – without them. May god give you the strength and encouragement to overcome this difficult period.
*Names have not been mentioned in respect of privacy.
Images courtesy of http://healthbbody.hol.es/lonely-quotes-for-boys.html, https://awsmfeelings.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/mohabbat/ and https://www.flickr.com/photos/vickoviczlatko/22928759750