LET’S TALK: About grief and the holidays 2014


Although it is commonly believed that grieving for a loved one who has passed away may take a year or more to resolve, in reality the grief could well go on for years. The sharpness of the pain of loss may soften with time, but depending on when and how the person died, the grieving process will be different for each of us.

My dear friend’s 101-year-old father passed away recently and she described feelings of relief and peacefulness. I have had clients whose loss of a child or unexpected and premature death of a spouse has clouded their capacity for joy and happiness for years. Loss can be wrenching as we struggle to find acceptance for what life has brought to us, and the year-end holidays, filled with gatherings of family and friends, can be comforting or painful. Holiday traditions, favorite foods, and special trips can sometimes sharpen the pain and longing for the person who is gone.

Rather than pushing these feelings away or withdrawing from the festivities, I have found that “making space” for the grief during these times can be profoundly healing. Daruma psychology is about allowing yourself to feel whatever is there and then taking steps to move through those emotions. It’s like the wind moving through you, sometimes harrowing and painful, sometimes soul-full and exhilarating, but always in movement, coming in and going out … making room for the next emotion to be experienced fully. Seven times down, eight times up!

Here are some suggestions for “making space” for the grief, especially during the holidays. Rather than repeating the same routines and traditions of Christmas and/or Oshogatsu, include a way to honor and remember your loved one. Sometimes people simply place a photograph in the room where family will gather, others have culled through their family albums and shared photos of previous holidays with the loved one. A toast before the meal, or a few words in remembrance by one or all family members creates an opportunity to acknowledge the loss and cherish the present moment.

One family collected their mother’s holiday recipes that included, among others, ohagi and Chinese Chicken Salad. Every year each family takes turns preparing these favorite dishes for the New Year’s potluck feast. 

A family golf tournament, a fishing trip at a nearby pier, passages read from the loved one’s favorite book or music reminiscent of an important time in the person’s life, are just a few examples of how families and friends can celebrate the holidays, feel the missing of the loved one, and fully appreciate the togetherness that the holidays can bring.

Some people may prefer to “make space” for their grief in a more private way, lighting a candle, saying a prayer, going for a walk, quietly meditating on remembered moments. Sometimes the tears may well up and the emptiness felt. Don’t be afraid. It’s a measure of what that person meant to you. Both my parents have been gone for many years now and I have come to know the ache in my heart that reminds me to love fully and laugh fiercely in celebration of the gifts they have bestowed on me and my family. 

May your holidays be filled with limitless Daruma possibilities!

Satsuki Ina, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist with specialization in intergenerational trauma. She can be reached at satsukina44@gmail.com. She is also a filmmaker (“Children of the Camps”- www.children-of-the-camps.org) and “From a Silk Cocoon: A Japanese American Renunciation Story” – www.fromasilkcocoon.com). The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.


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