People often ask us “What are you doing for the holidays?” When we’re mourning the loss of our loved one to death, the question often feels like a stab in the heart. It can become painful to answer. Either we avoid answering the question because we wonder if we’ll even be able to survive Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years without our loved one. Or we want to say “Do you really want to know?” Sometimes grievers feel as if they have no right to do and say what we really want to do and say. In 1992, Bruce Conley created The Griever’s Holiday Bill of Rights to address this very issue. Today, in 2020, with the many non-death losses that all of us are feeling, the Grievers Holiday Bill of Rights is especially relevant.
“You have the right to some ‘bah humbug’ days,” according to Bruce. Give yourself permission to lay low for a day. Stay in your jammies. Drink hot chocolate. Listen to comforting music. Savor the sunrise or sunset or both! Then the next day, “get right back on the horse.”
Similarly, “you have the right to say ‘time out’ anytime you need.” Take a time out from the stress and pressures of mourning your loss(es). Re-connect with yourself. Do what you need to do to stay grounded within yourself, centered around your own beliefs and values. When the world becomes over-stimulating, plan some quiet time by yourself.
Remind yourself that “you have the right to do things differently.” There is no law that says you must always do Christmas the same way you have always done. You can send 10 cards instead of 100—or no cards at all. You can open your presents at somebody else’s house; you can do without a tree; you can have pizza instead of ham or turkey. You can be creative and start a new tradition.” With the pandemic, our holidays will look different to many, if not most, of us. Think creatively, outside the box. Connect by Sky, Zoom, or other video chat. Play Bingo at a distance. Sing a song or play a musical instrument for each other. Connect several times throughout the day. Give each other a photo assignment (photograph something silly, something square, something holiday-ish, something serene) and share the photos one hour-later.
Not only do we have the right to do things differently, “you have the right to change direction in mid-stream.” Bruce goes on to say, “Grief is unpredictable. You may be all ready to go somewhere or do something and suddenly you are overwhelmed. When that happens, it’s okay to change your mind…Exercise your right to change when you need to change.”
One more “right” that Bruce identifies that I think is particularly poignant today is “You have the right to rest, peace, and solitude.” In grief, it is often difficult to find peace and solitude; we sometimes have to work hard at creating it. “Recharge your spirit.” It may come through connection: connection to God, connection to the universe, connection to others, connection to nature, connection to our animals, connection to ourselves.
One idea that incorporates many of Bruce’s suggestions is to take a holiday hike. Giving yourself permission to do things differently, it can give you a wonderful “time out.” It can provide connection to nature as well as peace and solitude, and it can recharge your spirit after a “bah hum bug” day.