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Grieving Doesn’t Stop for the Holidays

I received an email recently from someone who had experienced the loss of her sweet baby girl over a year ago. Obviously the last holiday season was the first one after her loss and people were “expecting” her to be grieving then. This year she wasn’t quite so sure what people expected and she asked me how I thought she should handle the holidays this year.

I am certainly no expert in grief counseling, but I told her what I always tell others who are grieving – don’t worry about what others expect. Honor your true feelings. Honor your grief by feeling it. Don’t try to cover it up, not even during the holidays.

I don’t know why it is, but so often it seems as if the holidays (as well as other celebrations/events for that matter), are expected to be all about joy, all about celebrating, all about one type of emotion – the happy-only type.

We don’t like to “messy up” our festivities.

But grieving doesn’t stop during the holidays, nor should it.

It’s no wonder such days and/or events can sometimes be completely exhausting for those who are facing loss of any kind and yes, for those dealing with a serious illness as well. A serious illness can bring on feelings of intense grief for one’s former healthy self and also create tremendous guilt for the one who is ill when she/he is just not feeling the joy or is unable to “put on or participate in a holiday” like in years past.

Of course the holidays are about joy, celebrating and happiness, but this doesn’t mean they cannot also include moments of sadness, grief and tears. It doesn’t have to be all one without the other. Emotions are far more complex.

There is nothing wrong with honoring your grief by feeling it. And no one should feel guilty about grieving during the holidays or during any time of the year as far as that goes.

And of course the reverse is true as well. If you’re grieving, don’t feel badly about feeling moments of joy either.

Grieving is hard work in and of itself for so many reasons. Worrying about what’s expected or not expected is something anyone who is grieving just should not have to worry about.

So if you have lost a dear loved one of late, or even not so of late, don’t try to block out your feelings of sadness that arise, not even during the holidays.

Instead share a story about your loved one, light a candle in their memory or go ahead and cry when your eyes fill with those tears.

Remember your loved one. Miss them. Yes, grieve for them.

It’s okay to feel joy mixed with sorrow and likewise sorrow mixed with joy.

If you are struggling with a serious illness and grieving for things as they once were, or if you’re just not feeling the joy for whatever reason, don’t beat yourself up about it.

Honor your true feelings by allowing them to flow through you.

Doing so might actually make you feel better.

And if you know someone who is struggling with grief or a serious illness, allowing her/him to honor her/his true feelings in your presence without guilt or judgment might be the greatest gift you give this holiday season.

Have you ever felt pressured to cover up your true feelings during the holidays, or any time for that matter?

What tip do you have to help someone who is grieving this holiday season?

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17 thoughts on “Grieving Doesn’t Stop for the Holidays

  1. I am on Faslodex cuz the Letrozole stopped work and now I am having extreme muscle spasming/cramping in my entire body — ankles, hands, back, thigh, hip. Has anyone else had this?

    1. Cate, I’m sorry to hear about your muscle spams and cramping. Sounds awful. Hope you get answers somewhere soon. Have you discussed this with your doctor? If not, please do.

  2. Shorty after I lost my husband tragically and unexpectedly some 15 years ago a well intentioned friend talked me into accompanying her on a short trip to the mall thinking that it would help to be surrounded by the festivities. We loved the holidays, Christmas in particular, it was a magical time of year to us both. I remember how surreal everything seemed to me….the music, beautiful decorations, people smiling and exchanging holiday well wishes. My friend chatted away as she always had when we were together, her voice far away in my mind, the words not really registering. It was as if I was an alien dropped in the middle of all this joyousness that I understood intellectually but could not share in.
    In the years that followed my friend was there to take me shopping or just sit and hold my hand. Many times no words were exchanged, no pressure to talk or encouragement to ‘move on with my life’. It was enough to just have her there.
    It was 3 1/2 years before the grief lifted and I could once again celebrate Christmas. There will, of course, always be a twinge of sadness around that time of year when I think of him and the years we had together. My friend is here still…she laughs with me at the memories of the things he used to do, is there for me when no words are spoken and in those now rare times when the void seems more than I can bear…she cries with me.
    Grieving is a very personal thing. We all move through it at our own pace. Surround yourself with those who are supportive. Forgive those who distance themselves from you or those who think you are taking too long in the process…likely they just don’t know what to say or are well intentioned and don’t know any better. They have yet to suffer the loss that you have. Most of all if you have a friend or family member like mine tell them how much you love and appreciate them. Lastly, if you are now in a place where you can do so, pay it forward.
    Toni

    1. Toni, I’m sorry for your loss all those years ago. The loss is for a lifetime though and is certainly not one you ever get over. I’m so glad you have had such a wonderful friend to offer such kindness and compassion all this time. And you’re right of course, grieving is a very personal thing. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing.

  3. I always miss Grandma, but I agree it can be extra hard around the holidays. I especially miss her when traveling to Josh’s grandparents’ home because being around them makes me miss my own grandma.

    1. Lindsay, I hadn’t thought of that – the traveling part I mean. I bet it does make you think of Grandma and make you miss her when you visit Josh’s grandparents. Hopefully it stirs up some nice memories too though. We have lots of those don’t we? So in that, we are fortunate. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Losing my Mom and my unborn baby just before Christmas two years ago has made me really hate the holiday season. You are so right that everyone expects you to be over it by now and not to spoil their festivities with your grief. Luckily for me this year, I get to bypass Christmas by being in a completely different country where Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas. I realize that isn’t a solution for everyone for lots of reasons, but I also realize how much pressure is lifted from us when we do not have to conform to a holiday ideal.

    1. Marie, Oh my, your comment really tugs at my heart. There is a lot of pressure sometimes to conform to that holiday ideal isn’t there? I’m sorry you feel it. Mostly I’m sorry for the great losses you have endured. I’ll keep you in my thoughts this holiday season. Hugs to you, Marie.

    2. Nancy, this is a beautiful post. And Marie, I am so sorry. I don’t feel like “celebrating” this year either. But, I will do so for my kids. The day after New Year’s, I seriously may drop off the planet for a month or so to regroup….

      Love to both of you,

      AnneMarie
      xoxox

      1. Ann Marie, It’s good to hear from you. It’s okay to feel the sadness mixed in with the joy, so don’t feel badly about not feeling very celebratory. And please don’t drop off the planet for long! Wishing you a peaceful and restorative holiday season. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Hello Nancy,

    I am a new reader to your blog and am so grateful to have found a safe, caring community that “gets it”. I have recently completed chemo and radiation treatments for uterine cancer. I have yet to have the definitive CAT scan that will let me know if I am NED or not.

    I lost my beloved husband (married twenty-six years) to pancreatic cancer in November 2011. So this will be the third Christmas without him. The first I spent alone. Not good. So last year I went away on a trip to Nashville. Much better.

    This year I have planned another trip to a lovely New England resort in the White Mountains. It helps to be among others in a festive atmosphere.

    Because of the chemo, I have unbelievable fatigue, and can do almost nothing. So I am glad when others will make the Christmas dinner, plan lovely events, and take care of all the planning. I am learning to take good care of myself by respecting and accepting my limits, and by giving myself treats and special things to look forward to.

    I even celebrated the end of every chemo treatment with some special getaway. Except the last one, when I was just not up to it.

    Thank you for being here, giving voice to our concerns, and for encouraging us to share our stories with you. What a wonderful community this is!

    God bless you and have a wonderful Christmas.

    Honey Bee

    1. Honey Bee, Welcome! I’m glad you’re here and yes, this is an amazing community… I’m sorry about the loss of your husband and about your cancer diagnosis too. I hope your holiday has moments of peace and is full of many wonderful memories. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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