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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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Grief and the Holidays

Uploaded: Dec 9, 2013
All the hubaloo around Christmas and New Year celebrations can be so painful or irrelevant when we're grieving the death of a loved one, a loss of a relationship, a miscarriage or infertility, a job. It's so hard to imagine that people are joyous, and that life is moving along — so quickly, while we are sad and time seems to be set on S L O W. We're marching to a different drummer alright, whether we want to or not.

And we are likely marching differently than our mate. That may cause other concerns, if you are even able to notice that. Please know that it is normal for people to grieve in their own way, and that while it is often different than "my" way, it is not the "wrong" way. Look for similarities in your grief, and start from there in your compassion for each other.

Another way of looking at differing styles of grief, and removing the stereotypes of gender roles, has been presented beautifully by Kenneth Doka and Terry Martin in their book Men Don't Cry, Women Do: Transcending Gender Stereotypes in Grief (1999). They introduce the concepts of "intuitive griever" and "instrumental griever," and the "blended" style of grieving:

Intuitive Griever
For the intuitive griever, the following characteristics are predominant:

 FEELINGS are intensely experienced;
 expressions such as crying and lamenting mirror the inner experience;
 successful adaptive strategies facilitate the experience and expression of feelings;
 prolonged periods of confusion, inability to concentrate, disorganization, and disorientation occur;
 physical exhaustion and/or anxiety may result.


Instrumental Griever:
The instrumental griever experiences grief in a different way:

 THINKING is predominant to feeling as an experience, while feelings are less intense;
 a general reluctance to talk specifically about feelings is common;
 mastery of oneself and the environment are most important;
 problem-solving as a strategy enables mastery of feelings and control of the environment in creating the new normal;
 brief periods of cognitive dysfunction are common—confusion, forgetfulness, obsessiveness;
 energy levels are enhanced, but symptoms of general arousal caused by the loss go unnoticed (meaning that the instrumental griever may not notice related emotional cues).

Blended grieving is a mixture of these two styles. For example, when we had several deaths in our family in a five-year period, I did a lot of intuitive grieving: I cried a lot, I talked a lot about my loved ones, I was unable or unwilling to engage in my normal activities and reactions for a long time, and I was physically exhausted. I demonstrated instrumental grieving in that I thought a lot about death, and how it has affected and changed my life. I went back to work right away. And my decision to change my career—from high-tech to becoming a therapist and writing a book about grief—are both concrete ways that I honor those that have passed.

Often, gender is assigned to a style of grieving. A woman is expected to be overcome by her emotions and a man is to keep a stiff upper lip. But by separating style from gender, each person is free to grieve in ways that are most beneficial to him or her in the process of integrating the loss. Remember that one's culture, age, life experience, gender, and social conditioning all affect one's style of grief.

It's also okay to take a break from your grief: laughing, watching a movie, getting a massage, being with friends, or giving yourself a break in any way possible is greatly encouraged. Our bodies and brains are built to survive; taking care of ourselves is an important tool in getting through the daily manifestations of grief and ultimately leads to the ability to integrate grief.

Wherever you are on the journey of grief and healing is normal (even if it feels painful and not at all normal). Take the time you need, get the support you deserve, and take the best care of yourself you can. Be sure to:
 eat well;
 sleep regularly;
 exercise;
 spend time with trusted people;
 spend time in nature;
 get a physical checkup (note that many doctors still subscribe to the
"get over grief" model);
 drink plenty of water;
 meditate or spend quiet time soothing yourself;
 do activities that you enjoy;
 permit yourself to laugh;
 take breaks from grieving.

Remember that alcohol is a depressant.

The holidays will pass. You get to choose how to participate or not. Feel free to decide at the last minute, or to leave early if you do choose to socialize.

Keep open, explicit communication with your mate through all of this.

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