grief and the holidays

This has been a unique holiday season for me. It has been joyous in many ways: filled with love and laughter, delicious food and warm conversations.  More than any other year, I have savored and treasured my time with my family and dear friends.

But also, this has been the hardest holiday season for me, because I have been missing my friend Celine a lot. She used to come home to Los Angeles from Paris for the holidays, and we would “meet halfway” in Malibu for dinner. I keep catching myself thinking that I need to call her, that we need to schedule our yearly tradition. I can’t quite wrap my head around her being gone, even now, eleven months since her death.

me and celine bart station

The holidays are a complicated time. Everywhere around us, commercials and holiday tunes are telling us to be joyful, to be cheerful, that this is the most wonderful time of the year. I love the warmth and connection of the holiday season, and the messages of gratitude and love that abound during this time. {And that we should all try to continue throughout the year!} But I think it is oversimplifying and counterproductive to attempt to squeeze the holiday season into a one-size-fits-all box marked CHEER. I believe it is important to honor your feelings, all of them, by feeling them authentically. If you try to shove sadness aside or quash it, the sadness will only come back stronger. If instead you let yourself feel your sadness, breathe into it, and let it go, then you are acknowledging life’s complexity and recognizing sadness as what it is: the other side of the coin of happiness. They are both products of a beautiful thing: LOVE. And love, even in grief, is something to celebrate.

Maybe, like me, you are grieving a loved one who is no longer with us. Or maybe you are grieving a broken relationship, or a lost job, or a foreclosed home, or something else. As I have learned in grief group, grief is an interconnected web: when we lose something or someone important to us, we often feel renewed grief for past losses we have experienced. It can be painful. It can be overwhelming. But it can also be meaningful in its own way.

Here are some tips that have helped me this holiday season:

Take some quiet time for yourself. The holidays are a notoriously busy time. You have a plethora of things pulling at you, wanting your attention: presents to buy, holiday parties to attend, gatherings with relatives, baking and cooking to do, traditions to uphold, etc etc. When you are grieving, your internal well has run dry. So give yourself pockets of time amidst the craziness to fill yourself up. Curl up and read a book that nurtures your soul. Cook a simple, nourishing meal for yourself. Get a massage. Take a nap. Forgive yourself and be gentle with yourself.  It doesn’t matter what you do to fill your well back up: just do something that makes you feel happy and at peace.

Connect with others who loved the person you are grieving. I always feel better after talking with my friend Holly. And this year, instead of sending my usual Christmas card to Celine, I sent one to her mom and brothers. I wrote about my favorite holiday memories of Celine, like how she taught us to string popcorn and cranberries to decorate our Christmas tree in college. If things are this difficult for me, I can’t even imagine what these weeks have been like for her family. My heart breaks just thinking about it. Writing them a note to let them know they are in my thoughts and prayers was a small gesture that brought me comfort, and I hope brought a little comfort to them, too.

all the ladies soph year

Write a letter to the person {or thing} you miss. In addition to sending a Christmas card to Celine’s family, I also wrote a card to my dear friend, just as I have done every year since we met in the college dorms. I told her what has been happening in my life, what I am excited about in the new year, and how much I miss her. Coach John Wooden used to write a letter to his late wife Nell every month after she passed, and stacked them on her pillow on their bed. I am keeping my letters to Celine in a special box on my bookshelf. Writing letters makes me feel connected to her. As my minister says in grief group: just because someone has died, does not mean our relationship with them has ended. Our relationship lives on, just in a different form.

Buy yourself a gift from the person you have lost. If they were still with you, what would they buy for you as a gift? Go buy that for yourself, wrap it up, and stick on a card from that person to you. Ever since Celine died, and especially in the past couple months, I have been feeling the urge to be more crafty. Celine was incredible at seeing the possibilities for treasure among what other people might throw away as trash. An amazing fashion designer, I also remember her making jewelry, belts, bags — she could take old pieces and make them new again. Inspired by Celine, this year I have bravely tried lots of new recipes {spaghetti squash! homemade granola! cilantro pesto!} and I have felt the urge to try crafting new pieces out of old scraps of things, like a braided rug I am sewing right now out of old T-shirt strips. I bought myself some Mod-Podge from Celine this Christmas because I want to try out some decoupage projects, and I know she would approve!

me and celine halloween

Share stories about the person {or thing} you have lost. There is so much joy in stories — they are how the past lives on in the present. However, the important thing to note about this is to be mindful about who you share your stories with. Our culture has interesting, often harmful, ways of reacting to grief — namely, expecting that people should be “over” their grief in a certain amount of time, when in reality grieving is a lifelong process. Some people might be uncomfortable with grief or not know how to react when you share a funny story about the person you miss — they might not understand how you can laugh about a person while still missing them. For me, I know that it is painful to talk about Celine with people who did not know her or know how important she was to me; I hate the feeling of her becoming a brief “cocktail party tidbit.” All it took was one experience of the other person blindly moving on to the artichoke dip while I stood there, breathless under a fresh wave of grief, for me to realize how important it is to guard my heart when it comes to Celine. Now, I only open myself up with people who make me feel safe and listened to.

Do something kind or fun or spontaneous in honor of the person you lost. Maybe this means an act of charity like volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating toys for kids in need. Or perhaps you could honor the person you are grieving by doing something zany they would do that feels out of your comfort zone: going rock-climbing or dyeing your hair or trying zumba for the first time. I am growing out my hair to donate to Locks of Love in honor of Celine, and every time I glance in the mirror and notice how long it is, I think of her and my heart fills.

me and celine

Honoring my true emotions has given this holiday season a new type of beauty for me: less shiny tinsel, and more authentic joy. Yes, I have learned that joy and grief are intertwined. My first real comprehension of loss has also meant that I understand gratitude much more deeply. Everything I hold dear is that much more precious.

fam at beach

Sending love and gratitude for all of you this holiday season, and beyond. I hope this post was helpful, and I would love to hear any of your tips in the comments section below. And I am always just an email away, if any of you are grieving and just need someone to listen. We are here for each other.

year of kindness challenge: week 39

year of kindness button

Happy October, friends! Hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I woke up with a little sore throat this morning, so I’ve been trying to be extra gentle to myself today and {fingers crossed} keep from getting sick. I’ve been downing green tea like nobody’s business! 🙂

Organized tea

The Week 38 Kindness Challenge was to let someone go ahead of you in line. I let people go ahead of me in the security line at the airport last week on my trip home from visiting Holly in Nashville, and I also let people go in front of me in line at the grocery store and the drugstore. On my trip into the city on Sunday, I let people go ahead of me onto the BART train … it meant I didn’t get a seat, but I enjoyed standing and looking out the window at the beautiful autumn leaves as the train zoomed along. I also saw a number of young men get up to offer their seats to elderly passengers, mothers and children. It warmed my heart!

This past week’s kindness challenge made me think of a sermon I heard over the summer about how moments of grace can happen in the midst of the most mundane daily activities. Our pastor spoke about a mantra that she repeats while washing the dishes or doing laundry or, yes, waiting in line at the grocery store: “Even here.” Even here, even now, even in the most chaotic and hectic days, goodness and grace and kindness can blossom. I certainly felt filled with happiness and connection this week every time I let someone go ahead of me in line. It transformed a chore into an opportunity for grace. Where can you find opportunities for grace in the margins of your daily life?

The Week 39 Kindness Challenge comes from my wonderful blogger friend Danica at It’s Progression: Write a letter {or an email or make a phone call} to a former teacher of yours, thanking them for the influence they had on you. This would also be a wonderful activity to do with children. If you are a teacher, turn it around and write a letter to a former student of yours who was really special. Teachers are such an invaluable, tireless and huge-hearted part of society and in my opinion they are not thanked nearly enough for all they do! Spread the kindness and gratitude this week!

As always, blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com.

Have a wonderful week!
– Dallas

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year of kindness archives:
– week 1 challenge: donate items to those in need
– week 2 challenge: leave quarters & note at laundry machine
– week 3 challenge: write & send a kind handwritten note
– week 4 challenge: give hot chocolate to someone outside in the cold
– week 5 challenge: do something kind for a neighbor
– week 6 challenge: deliver valentines to a nursing home
– week 7 challenge: donate to a food pantry
– week 8 challenge: donate toiletries to a shelter
– week 9 challenge: post a kind note in a public place
– week 10 challenge: do something kind for a child
– week 11 challenge: thank someone in a genuine & meaningful way
– week 12 challenge: deliver baked goods to a fire station
– week 13 challenge: give someone flowers
– week 14 challenge: donate books
– week 15 challenge: reach out and spend time with people
– week 16 challenge: smile at everyone you meet
– week 17 challenge: pick up litter/trash
– week 18 challenge: write a kind note to a mom figure in your life
– week 19 challenge: leave an extra-generous tip
– week 20 challenge: donate blood/join bone marrow registry
– week 21 challenge: visit a cemetery and pay respect
– week 22 challenge: practice a little patience
– week 23 challenge: call 3 loved ones on the phone
– week 24 challenge: do something kind for a senior citizen
– week 25 challenge: pay for someone’s public transportation
– week 26 challenge: volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen
– week 27 challenge: send a care package to someone in the military
– week 28 challenge: give at least one compliment every day
– week 29 challenge: do a favor for someone else
– week 30 challenge: scatter lucky pennies around a playground
– week 31 challenge: mail an empowering postcard
– week 32 challenge: plant something
– week 33 challenge: donate school supplies
– week 34 challenge: give a sandwich to a homeless person
week 35 challenge: compliment a salesperson to their manager
week 36 challenge: leave positive feedback
week 37 challenge: do a household kindness
week 38 challenge: let someone go ahead of you in line

saturday upsides: reunited with my fam!

Happy Saturday, everyone! I am currently writing this late on Friday night from Mike’s parents’ house in the Chicago suburbs, but by the time you read this I will likely be in an airplane en route to Burbank, California, to be reunited with my family for the holidays!

family

I am SO excited to see them. I feel like my child-self on Christmas Eve, unable to fall asleep. I do love my life at Purdue, but it can be hard being so far away from my family. We have always been extremely close and though I do talk to them every day, as our time apart grows I find myself missing their physical presence more and more — I crave a hug from my mom; I want to see my brother’s mischievous-eyed smile; I really want to hear my dad’s laugh. I absolutely cannot wait to hug all of them in a matter of hours!

saturdayupsidesbutton

So my Saturday Upsides today, of course, is that I get to see my family. Their love and support is such a blessing in my life!

I was thinking today, as I scurried around town trying to get done what felt like the hundreds of little errands and tasks to complete in preparation for my trip, that traveling is like a lot of things in life: you have to put in a bunch of work to get to the reward. It made me think of one of my favorite quotes by John Wooden: “The journey is better than the inn.” Now, I’m not saying that waiting in line at the Post Office is better than the moment I step out into baggage claim and see my family’s smiling faces. But instead of letting stress get the best of me, I tried to appreciate the rituals of errands and packing and preparing for my trip back home as part of the journey itself. Switching up my mindset made my hectic day a whole lot more enjoyable!

What are the upsides of your lovely Saturday? Anyone else have de-stressing pre-travel tips to share?

-Dallas

marvelous monday: little oases of rest in a hectic, busy season

Happy Monday, everyone! It’s that time of year … the holidays are upon us. All weekend I’ve been seeing not just Thanksgiving decorations in stores, but Christmas decorations, too! Some houses in my neighborhood have even put up lights and lawn ornaments. {Which I’m admittedly not used to, coming from California, but it does make sense here in Indiana where you want to get the lights up before the first snow hits!} It seems like Christmas season sets upon us earlier and earlier every year … which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for me, a girl who starts playing Pandora Holiday stations in October. I love the warmth and comfort of the holiday season!

Still, the holidays bring with them a lot of busyness — gifts to buy, special meals to cook, cards to send, relatives in town, parties to attend, and just a general hectic pace of life that can be overwhelming. Coupled with the approaching end-of-semester obligations and deadlines: final papers and projects to grade, class presentations, meetings — and for me this year, a completed rough draft of my thesis to turn in — and life can quickly feel out-of-control crazy-busy!

I’ve started doing a brief stretch and deep-breathing routine each morning to get my day off on the right foot, which I’ll share with you later this week. But something else that has helped me keep my sanity and approach the holiday season with a grateful heart {as it is meant to be celebrated, after all!} is to take little breaks throughout the day to slow down, take a breath, and reward myself for the work I have gotten done. Even just ten or fifteen minutes away from my computer or pile of dirty dishes can be enough to clear my head and make me feel worlds happier and more refreshed. Here are some of my “oases”:

  • making a phone call to my friends or family
  • reading a chapter of a good book or a story from a magazine
  • taking a power nap
  • going for a brisk walk around the neighborhood
  • daydreaming with a cup of tea

How do you keep your sanity and stay energized during the crazy-busy holiday season? What are your little daily oases?