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Happy Holidays? Creating a self-love sanctuary to cope with loss

There are times throughout the year that can be a joyful cause for celebration for many such as Father’s Day, but a very difficult date in the diary for others. Lush content creator Taya Black shares her bittersweet experience of celebrating holidays without her father after his passing in 2013, and how a little tender loving self-care can help to reclaim a space which has become uncomfortable.

I was 21 when my dad passed away unexpectedly. I discovered him having a fatal heart attack in our family home. There was no warning, he had just finished an evening of teaching Taekwon-Do, and was sitting down in front of the TV doing what he loved most at the end of a long day - drinking a cup of tea and watching cheesy action movies.

Despite my best efforts, my first aid training as a lifeguard and the excellent guidance and help from the emergency services, it was simply not enough to save him. Just like that, my humble hero, a dedicated husband, father and grandfather was gone, and our safe haven, the home I grew up in, became a place of indescribable grief.

It was just two weeks before my university graduation ceremony, and what was to become the first in a series of many terribly difficult ‘celebrations’ that have followed since his unexpected death.

Almost six years have now passed since that life-altering evening, and although living without the self-confessed ‘Mr Motivator’ and all of the bad dad jokes hasn’t gotten any easier, the holidays I used to celebrate with him have slowly become dates for dedicating time to myself, other family members and friends.

Now, these ‘unhappy holidays’ where I am usually bombarded by brands and unintentionally flippant social media feeds, are a time where mindfulness, self-love, and kindness to others take priority. I like to call it the self-love sanctuary - a space to dedicate wholly to yourself and your mental health, without any judgments on how you should or shouldn’t be feeling. Reclaiming an uncomfortable time or space back into your very own comfort zone can start with the smallest of steps.

Make Time For Yourself

Around difficult times or holidays, take the time to check in with yourself and just listen. After my dad passed away, without realising, I would extend the activities I could do by myself: from reading that extra chapter in a book, to taking a leisurely walk along the seafront and having a dip in the sea, or just spending a little longer in the shower than perhaps I usually would.

I found that through spending an extra five minutes here or an hour there with me myself and I, I began to embrace a peaceful solitude that I had previously feared before, and my mind felt increasingly settled at times of great stress. The panic attacks that convinced me everyone I loved was going to drop dead became less frequent and my anxiety slowly started to level out.

That wonderful little pause to acknowledge how I was feeling and not dismissing that emotion as abnormal or unwanted, was the difference between sinking and swimming in a sea of grief. It was also where I began to tailor my self-care routine around how I really wanted to feel.

Switching Off

Taking a break from social media allows you to draw your attention away from the sometimes alienating online world and create a safe haven to recuperate.

One of the things that initially inspired my break from the screen is the thousands of handwritten scribbles and motivational messages my dad would leave everywhere (and I mean everywhere, at work, in the car, in every drawer in the house…I could go on). So instead of staring and scrolling mindlessly, I started carrying a pen and a notebook around with me. I began a series of 15-minute sketches that I could do while commuting to work, stopping for coffee or anywhere where I was paused for a little amount of time.

Invest In Rest and Relaxation

If you have been feeling a little frazzled, extend your normal bath and shower routines by adding on a mini pamper to help calm the mind and relax the body.

I found leveling up my routine whilst letting the creative juices flow by writing or drawing was easy - I’d pop on a hair mask and allow it to work its wonders whilst I was getting crafty. Or if I felt like an evening with Arnie, Sylvester and Wesley Snipes (my dad’s influence - not even sorry) I’d settle down with a face mask to feed my skin as the well-watched stories unfold.

Afterwards, having a long hot soak with a book for company always ensured I’d relax, unwind and get a good night's sleep. It’s no secret that rest is key for recovery, both physically and mentally, so bathing in the evening became a way for me to clear my mind before catching those restorative Z’s.

Fresh Air Therapy

Getting outside in the fresh air, whatever the weather (yes, really!) can work wonders for helping to lift your mood.

Growing up in the luscious green Devon countryside meant I spent a lot of time outside. I have fond memories of family bike rides and sitting on the back of my dad’s bike as a little girl, arms waving, fresh air flowing through my hair as we whizzed along the windy country lanes with my mum and sister. Now I find cycling is a very therapeutic way of steadying my thoughts and boosting my mood, and often a way for me to spend time with my mum. I like to think of it as ‘fresh air therapy’, helping to release those important endorphins (our happy hormones) but it is also a space where you can enjoy it alone or invite someone along if you fancy the company.

Whatever time of the year my mood and my needs will always change. Ultimately the self-love sanctuary can be a place where you decide what you would like to think about or whom, whilst paying closer attention to yourself.  Beyond all else, how you honor that special someone really is unique to you, there are no rules, and yes that special someone you celebrate can be yourself.

A collection of photographs and old belongings of Taya's father, Jonny Black.
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