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Coping and not coping with the holidays

The sat nav had created so many left turns along a bland dual carriageway lined with lamps and laybys that I nearly missed the final left turn into the garden centre car park. With my fenders still attached I performed a 90 degree wheel turning left and cruised the lots for a space. The music hit me like a wrecking ball, full on, jolly holly, snow clad, berry filled holiday music. It seemed to be right in my ear as I opened my car door to climb out.

I burst into tears and double flipped myself back into the car seat to dry up the tears.

At least that's what my mind told me to do, I actually just froze on the spot.

Side blinded by merriment once more!

How do you ever come to terms with the sudden self infused anguish? I am like a herbal grief bag hiding in a mug and the hot water looming nearby, today the heat was the fun music. That sudden scorching sense of overwhelming loss slap bang in the middle of a garden centre brimming with families' children and twinkly lights.

On the outside you would n't notice my grief, I could slip into that holiday crowd, move around the candy cane stalls, the multicoloured swags and glass baubles.

On the outside I look OK with my mask in place. I can move, smile, look, shop (almost) and gather simple human exchanges. I keep on moving just like my sat nav.

I simply enter the human coordinates for the day and follow my own grief map, it's the diversions that reveal the hidden depth of my pain. The diversions hurt because they are memories of the past or deep reverent notes of missing my beautiful son.

My grief tank is always full, I have learned to keep the lid on in public spaces giving myself practical tools to manage its sorrow, until today. Music is the one area I find difficult to manage, it floods my ears and rings out the sadness, it vibrates my jagged nerves and today there was no escape.

What is important is this:

The recovery time from a sudden burst of anguish is approximately 3 minutes or less. Mine was less than 3 minutes because I had a friend waiting for me and we went straight to the cafe where the music was quiet. I recovered gently and could talk about my upset privately with someone I trust.

This time last year I could not even go out to shop. This year I had more opportunity and choice to go out, I found a way to manage it.

There is no set way to grieve, no timescale or true grief map. However, if the holiday period is hard for you, map out a venture step by step with a true friend.

Map it out in a journal in 3 - 5 simple written steps.

  1. Town centre (or village) trip with Rob with named venue for escaping the crowds. Plan the time limit. (1 hour, 2 hours?)

  2. Meet in your preffered OK place (eg car park, storefront, escalator) text on arrival to check he/she/ they is there.

  3. Visit shop 1 together and check in how you are. Visit shop 2 then have a break to regroup.

  4. Talk through a sign you are overwhelmed - mine was "I am sorry I have to go." I used this on phone calls when Ant first died, and the conversation was too much. I used it with my family and friends as I began to go beyond home.

  5. It is 12 months since Ant died, I am able to give myself a choice - do I want to go home immediately, or do I simply need a few moments to allow my hypervigilance to settle down? I find a quiet corner in a shop and lean on a display. Or I pretend to study a product. Today, I went into the cafe and settled down to chat with my friend. After a hot drink I decided to come home and not shop. I did not get in my own way!

If you are struggling with grief this holiday, or you know someone who is, know that the grief cup is full of memories, sadness and sdorrow at holiday times, even if the outer appearance is deceptive. Sit and find peace in the quiet settled times and you will also find some hope and lightness in your day.

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