One great way to open these conversations is with the phrase “I need your help...” Your family and friends love you and want to help - but most of us get caught up in our own needs during the holiday season and can use a gentle reminder that you are hurting and in need.
Have Someone On Call
You need to recruit a team to help support you during this time. Please do not try to “gut it out” alone. I think that tagging a friend or family member as “base” can be helpful at events. This is someone you can check-in with periodically. You get a chance to take the fake smile off and talk to honestly for a minute or two before you jump back into the event. Having a friend “on call” to text with can also be helpful. Let this friend know that they need to text you a “hi” or a joke every 15 minutes during difficult events or just ask them keep their phones on hand in case you need a quick reassuring word.
Plan A Distraction
Sometimes when we are grieving and hour of socializing can feel like a year. One thing that can help is to find a “job” for yourself. Name yourself the nanny or playmate for the kids or be the dishwasher for all meals. The point is to have something to do to keep you busy and distracted.
There may also be many people who will want to talk about your loss even when you don’t want or need to. I find that having a rehearsed topic that engenders strong opinions can be helpful to distract these people - something like the Kardashians, the election or the Redskins quarterback. Bring up your topic - even if you have to interrupt them - and it will catch their attention. Then you can politely excuse yourself because you are expected at the kids table for coloring.
Plan For The Day After
People tend to be great at planning how to get through the holiday itself but then forget to plan anything for the day after. They gear up for Thanksgiving and then have nothing in place for Black Friday. And as a result, they can experience a crash or a flood of emotion on this day. Make sure that you Holiday Survival Plan includes what you will need to get through these days as well.
Grieving a loss is difficult. Grieving a loss while pretending to be jolly is almost impossible. My most important piece of advise is to give yourself a break - starting right now. Remember to breathe, ask for help, listen to your needs and please consider therapy as an additional support for yourself. Your insurance company or Employee Assistance Program can both help you get in touch with a therapist.