The Holidays: How I Cope With the Loss

It's holiday time, and life seems busier than ever. I'm working through my seemingly ever-growing list of gifts to buy, events to attend, and things to wrap up before the end of the year. In the midst of all this activity, it's during the quiet times that I recognize there is a void. My void has a name — it's Erskine Hallam Bishop. It's the name of a brilliant man with a winsome smile. He was stern, dedicated, and loving in his own special way.

Erskine Hallam BishopMy father quietly passed away in his sleep one night in 2004. He was a charismatic, complex, and caring man, and at 37, he was tasked with taking care of his wife, who became mentally impaired after a brain aneurysm, and raising three young rambunctious kids. As a result, he played the role of father, mother, protector, and shaper of my world.

Although he never asked for gifts during the holidays, I always tried to get him something special, maybe even a little extravagant, as token of repayment for all the sacrifices he made to care for us. Each year, he would playfully take his time opening his gifts. He'd gingerly open the package at the seams, being careful not to tear the colorful paper. I would watch him, filled with excitement. Half way through opening his gift, I would always intervene and "help him" by ripping the paper off because he always took forever to open it! (Please note: It should never take a person more than a minute to open a gift. NEVER!) This became our little tradition, and to this day, I smile at the thought of him inspecting a wrapped gift to find its seams.

Usually as the holiday season approaches, I begin to feel a heaviness in my heart. At some point in time, it ends in teary moments and feelings of loss. In the first few years after his death, I expected the tears, almost welcomed them as a form of release. But as time passed, I found myself surprised that the feelings persisted. I wondered, "Is this normal?" And after doing some research and talking with my siblings and close friends, I learned that many people struggle with grief during this season. The holidays are filled with family and traditions, and it's only natural to notice when a special loved one is missing.

Instead of trying to ignore or suppress my feelings, I embrace them as a way of honoring my father's memory. During these days when he occupies a special place in my mind, I wrap myself in loving memories of him and engage in self-care. I manage my grief by following the six simple practices below:

 

  1. Get enough sleep. Remember, most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep to feel refreshed.
  2. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. The food you eat can have a direct effect on your energy levels, physical health, and mood. Deficiencies in some nutrients like vitamin D have been linked to depression in women.
  3. Avoid alcohol and drugs as a means to escape or cope with your pain.
  4. Be physically active. It's a great way to release endorphins and boost your spirit.
  5. Volunteer. It's difficult to be unhappy when you are giving your time and energy to help someone else. You may want to choose a charity that was meaningful to your loved one.
  6. Talk it out. Don't struggle with your grief alone. Talk with a loved one, support group, or a professional about your feelings.

 

If you have a lot of trouble eating, sleeping, concentrating, or doing other daily activities for more than two to three weeks, talk to your doctor. These could be signs of depression or another problem that can be helped with medical care.

In time, I've come to recognize that loss is a part of life and the feelings it brings can be managed. While I can't erase the void in my life, I've decided to reframe it. Rather than dwelling on the loss, I dwell on the good times. When I feel the sadness creep up on me, I call my brother Peter and talk about our dad. We usually find ourselves laughing at our quirky upbringing. Sometimes I do let the feeling of loss wash over me briefly, because there is nothing wrong with living your truth. There is no rule about how long you will grieve. It's different for every person. However, if this time of year is difficult for you and you're having trouble coping, you're not alone. People want to help. Learn more about dealing with the loss of a loved one, your spouse, or an adult child.

This is a fabulous time of year, full of family, food, fun, and love. Even with a void in your life, do your best to embrace the joy of the season, remember those who touched us, and have a happy, healthy holiday!