Endings happen all the time. Saying good-bye and dealing with painful change during a festive season can be particularly hard. How can we part in peace at such a time?
For many the transience of life is especially present during times of shared cultural or religious celebrations and seasons. Life and death and change in nature’s seasons can merge to a sense of transition.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, depending on where you live, your senses will be invited to join the festive season and mood – the colors and decorations, the sounds of music in shops, the smells, the food, the greetings, the talk and much more.
Whatever your culture and religion, festive seasons are about connecting, togetherness, sharing. Some will argue it can be a time of mindless indulgence and waste. For others it is a time of spiritual or religious reflection.
If celebration is about connecting, then endings are often seen to be about dis-connecting and ending a connection. And therein some of the problems lie: because we may not want to disconnect; we could not or chose not to prepare for an ending; or we have started to let go and the pain is great.
Some endings we welcome and cannot wait for. Others we fear and want to delay. Sometimes we may opt to be a passive bystander in endings that affect us deeply. At other times we may play an active role. With some endings, we do not realize they are happening until after the event. Others are slow and relentless, apparently never ending: like poor health, a chronic illness and deteriorating well-being.
Difficult endings can change our mood and perception of life. We can feel sad, exhausted, hopeless, frightened, depressed, angry, cynical, guilty, numb, want to be left alone, want to be silent.
When we face difficult endings we may feel alienated from seasonal cheer and others’ expectation of us to join in. We may feel separate and cut off from the world around us.
If you look back over the year and think about the last festive season of meaning to you, then you will recognize just how much has changed for you – in a subtle or more profound way. And the same will happen yet again between now and the next festive season.
What has come to an end for you this year? What endings are happening right now, this month? How do you feel about it all?
Good-bye to a job, colleagues, a home, a location or country, to relationships or friendships, to financial security or vulnerability, to status, to physical health, to assumed certainty, to peace, or good bye to a life – that of another or your own: The list is endless. Your list is personal and unique to you.
If any of this rings a bell for you, then you may know you can deal with good-byes in at least two ways:
You can hold on to the painful loss that the ending represents – the ‘never again’ aspects. Chances are, this option will keep you stuck in the past, will continue to burn your heart, and you will miss out on what else life has to offer. You will miss out on what mindfulness calls ‘now, this very moment’.
Not moving on from an ending blocks acceptance and healing. When we do not want to accept, our resistance keeps us trapped.
Another option is to embrace the ending and be as fully aware of it as possible. It does not need to be a death, but if you are dealing with another meaningful ending like a job, relationship, or moving home, then try and be aware of the emotional meaning for you, so you can prepare. Give yourself a chance to make a choice about how you want to say good-bye in your own way.
For example: Scan your existing memories for the ones you want to hold on to. If you can, then create new memories, which help connect the past with the present and future.
If this is the last time you spend the festive season in your current home, then acknowledge that fact, and create a memory you can reconnect with next year. Then you can say “I thought of this moment last year, and wondered what it would be like. I remember marking the last time we were together in the old home.”
If someone in your life is dying, then see how they wish to mark the festive season, or not. If you can talk openly about death, then you may be able to create a shared memory together, which is based on the acceptance of death, which can be a shared source of strength for all.
Endings and good-byes can squeeze tight and break our hearts and endings can expand and open up our hearts.
We can spend so much energy trying to block life’s flow, that we stop from moving on. Because life will flow, whether we like it or not. Time does not stand still for you or I.
How can you help your life to flow irrespective of the endings we all experience?
Make sure you take care of yourself the best you can, and even it means saying ‘no’ to festive cheer, or joining in a way that is meaningful and helpful to you.
Create enough space and time for yourself.
Try not to grieve in silence, tell others why this December will be different for you.
When the time is right (you will know when), let go of grief and anger.
Finally, try not to think “If only I had known then, what I know now”. Instead, try and be grateful for what you know now!
I wish you a peaceful holiday and festive season wherever you are.
Karin Sieger is a psychotherapist and writer. She specialises in supporting people through anxiety, bereavement and life-changing illnesses like cancer. Her blog is Between Self and Doubt. You can follow her on Twitter and can sign up for her newsletters here. For more information visit KarinSieger.com.