JFK’s 1963 Christmas Cards and Dealing with Grief during the Holidays- The 12 Days of Blogmas Day 7

Happy 12 Days of Blogmas Day 7! 

Today’s holiday topic is not one filled with the cheer and merriment that most of us wish to focus on this time of year, but it’s none the less a part of the holidays.  Dealing with grief during the holiday season.  Grief, which can feel overwhelming any time of the year, has a way of magnifying this time of the year when we try to carry grief with us through the Christmas crazed world with its blaring holiday music, excited children waiting to talk to Santas around the world, and lots of family and social obligations to attend.

In November of 1963, before he set out for his fateful trip to Dallas, President John F. Kennedy had already begun to sign the Christmas cards that he and Jackie had selected to send out that year.  They planned to finish signing the rest and send them out after they returned from their trip.  Of course as we know, they never got that chance.  The Christmas cards were never sent out.  One of the cards is now part of the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History; a reminder of a dark moment in American history and the grief that both a family and nation shared that holiday season.

And the nation had plenty to grieve that year.  In addition to Kennedy’s assassination, several violent, racially motivated murders were committed including the murders of Medgar Evers and four young girls who lost their lives in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that also injured another twenty-two people.

And it’s not like the year 1963 is unique in being a year filled with loss.  Every year of human existence had brought suffering and pain, and this pain is magnified for loved ones during the holidays.  This pain isn’t just limited to the holiday after a loss either.  It can continue to be there year after year as we miss a loved one or lost relationship and the traditions of holidays gone by.

There are a few things we can do to help get through the holidays and care for ourselves.

Strategies for dealing with grief during the holidays:

  1. Know that grief is a part of the healing process:
    • Emotions like joy, sadness, anger, etc are normal and allowing ourselves to feel them helps us to move forward in the healing process.  Don’t avoid emotions.  Don’t just pretend like the holidays don’t exist or try to numb the pain with drugs or alcohol.
  2. Set Healthy Boundaries
    • You don’t want to completely ignore the holidays, but you also don’t have to make yourself go to everything you get invited to.  If a certain event or circumstance is just too painful to face, it’s okay to say no. 
  3. Surround yourself with people who love and support you
    • Spend time around friends and family that allow you to talk about your grief and express emotions.
  4. Honor your memories
    • Find your own ways to remember and honor lost loved ones and remember the love that is never lost even after they are gone.
  5. Set realistic expectations for yourself
    • Grief can be overwhelming both mentally and physically.  You might feel tired or like you don’t want to undertake all the same responsibilities you’ve had in past holidays.  Take care of yourself and remember it’s ok not to do all the things you’ve done in years past if it will take away from your overall well-being.  It’s okay to create new traditions or to alter the old ones.
  6. Do Something Kind for Others
    • The holidays offer many opportunities for us to serve others around us through acts of kindness, buying gifts for families that might otherwise not get any, or volunteering with patients in local nursing facilities who might not have family to come and see them during the holidays.  Working as a nursing home social worker, I met many people who had recently lost loved ones who chose to return to the center and to visit with other patients because they knew they would otherwise not have those visitors and even through their own grief they could still offer simple kindness to another person.
  7. Ask for Help
    • Never be afraid or ashamed to ask for help when you are struggling with grief during the holidays (or anytime).  This might look like telling loved ones that you’re having a difficult time, or it could be reaching out to local support groups or contacting a professional counselor to help you process your grief in a healthy way.

I wish you peace during this time if this holiday season is proving to be more painful than joyful.  You’re not alone.

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