Grief & the Holidays

Grief & the Holidays – 10 Tips that Might Help

I realized the other day, or rather it started to sink in, that this is the first holiday season for me in which I no longer have a living parent. It’s hard coming to terms with this realization. It hurts. I also know I am lucky because I have many wonderful memories. But it’s still hard. And even though it’s only been four months since my dad’s funeral, it sometimes seems like I’m supposed to have already moved on. 

Grief and cancer are weird like that. People give you time for the messy parts, the high-intensity parts, and then one day things are pretty much supposed to be back to normal. You are supposed to be back to normal.

It’s almost like the more quickly you “finish up” cancer (yeah, we know better, right?) or finish up grieving, the better job you are perceived to be doing at handling them. After all, we live in a hurry up sort of world.

What complete bullshit though. You don’t just wake up one day and put either one of these life-changing experiences behind you. Neither are that tidy.

Grief and cancer are both things I’ll never just be done with for too many reasons to go into here.

Grief (and cancer) makes people uncomfortable. And most people avoid being uncomfortable, especially around the holidays.

Every holiday season I get emails and/or comments on old blog posts I’ve written on grief from people who’ve recently experienced the death of a loved one. A common thread in the messages is that the individuals have no idea how to face, much less enjoy, the holidays. They often say things like, I don’t know how I’m going to get through the holidays, or I can’t tell you how much I am dreading the holidays this year.

So what are you supposed to do when it’s the holidays, but you are grieving?

I wish I had the answers, but of course, I don’t. No one does.

However, I have found these things help. Sometimes. But only sometimes because sometimes nothing helps. Sometimes you just have to ride the waves of grief.

 1.  First and foremost, honor your grief.

Don’t try to fake it, at least not all the time. That’s far too exhausting and doesn’t work anyway. And remember everyone grieves differently which is a wonderful thing, but also potentially frustrating because often it seems others are doing a far better job than you are. Grieve your way and remember there’s no time table. There just isn’t.

 2.  Talk about your loved one, even if it makes you sad, even if it makes others sad or uncomfortable.

It’s okay if the tears start flowing. Sometimes you have to cry before you can laugh. Or vice versa.

 3.  Ask for help.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, or better yet, before you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help with the shopping, cooking, baking, decorating, card writing, cleaning, gift wrapping, dog grooming or whatever tasks you would like to get done, but just can’t handle on your own this year.

 4.  Or better yet, cut back on all of the stuff and all of the doing.

Do what you can. It’ll be enough. Really it will be.

 5.  Get out and do something for someone else.

And it needn’t be anything big. Maybe just deliver some cookies (store bought are fine) to an elderly person on your street. Offer to babysit. Or walk someone’s dog. Or take someone to a movie. It’s the getting out and doing parts that matter, not so much what you’re doing.

 6.  Make a donation.

Donate in your loved one’s name to a charity, cause or institution your loved one cared about or that you think they would care about. There’s a reason for all those plaques hanging on walls in such places.

 7.  Light a candle and think about the wonderful memories you have of your loved one. Or decorate a tree just for your loved one.

Having a concrete object or place to “put” your grief can be helpful. Some people even set up a grief room. Do what works or might work for you.

 8.  Own your feelings.

State out loud how you’re feeling. Or write down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling can be a god-send. The important thing is to acknowledge your genuine thoughts and feelings. They are yours, so own them.

 9.  Take care of yourself.

You know the drill. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Exercise. Okay, try to do these things.

10. Finally, remind yourself that grief ebbs and flows too.

It’s perfectly fine to have moments of joy mixed with sadness and moments of sadness mixed with joy. Emotions are always jumbled after loss, during the holidays, even more so.

Never feel badly about grieving for your loved one or worry about spoiling the holidays. That would be like feeling badly for loving your dear one.

Because after all, grief is another form of love.

As always, be you. Be real.

It’s enough, even during the holidays, perhaps especially then.

What tip might you add?

Who are you missing this holiday season?

Do you ever feel pressured to put your grief behind you?

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#Grief & the #Holiday - 10 tips that might help #christmas #holidayseason #grieving #loss

25 thoughts to “Grief & the Holidays – 10 Tips that Might Help”

  1. Thank-you for this. I also feel that grief is not something that you “get over” but prefer to let it quietly shape who I am. The more I am able to acknowledge the sadness or loss that I feel the more I honour myself.

  2. There must be a way to heal. Taking your time is good bc it means you’re not measuring yours w a ruler. Not comparing so not judging. But aside fr these yo stay in grief and mourning for decades is painful and takes away from making room for other possibilities in life. I look to ancient times and other cultures. Didn’t widows wear black for a year? If must have signaled to others to continue to comfort and mourn a her. Also, says it’s okay to be sad at least for now. These rituals may help today. Over the loss of an acquaintance I chose to wear black for a month. And set out to buy earrings the exact color of her eyes bc she was known for her beautiful green eyes. These actions really helped. Bc I was honoring her memory through action I was telling her you were so important and it’s a big deal to not be around u anymore.

    1. Christine, What a wonderful reminder about how in some cultures grieving widows (and others) wear/wore black for months or even a year. I think you’re right, it is/was a reminder to others to continue to offer comfort. There is no need to hurry through grief, it’s not really possible anyway. And you’re right about not comparing or judging, though sometimes it’s hard not to. It’s lovely how you chose to wear black and bought a special pair of earrings to honor your acquaintance. Concrete actions can be so meaningful and helpful. Thank you for sharing.

  3. The quicker the better, fast food grieving, get over your grief in 10 minutes or less and your grief is free. I am NOT grieving. I am afraid of losing everybody I love, just afraid, wanting to stop doing but too scared to stop. My husband died a year ago and why does it still hurt so much? Thanks for helping me understand that grieving is not to be mastered or measured , it is to help me soften and feel the pain.

    1. Danita, I am sorry about your husband. A year isn’t that long, so of course, it still hurts. Your loss is for a lifetime. I love these words you shared, “grieving is not be mastered or measured”…so true. Thank you for sharing.

      1. Nancy, my 97 year old mother passed away on the same date as you posted this comment. I received the call from the hospital about 40 minutes before your post was made. She was more than my mom. She had Alzheimer’s for years and was more like a child. She had become my baby, the one I never had, and I miss her so much. Thank you.

        1. Denise, I am very sorry to hear about your mother. I understand your feelings; you’re not alone. Thank you for sharing this sad news. Again, I’m sorry. Take care of yourself.

  4. These are great tips, Nancy, thank you. Some of these have helped me and I continue to practice them. The holidays always make me feel emotional and I often think about those who are no longer here. I generally grieve privately. I am presently grieving my friend who passed away last Sept. 13 from MBC at the age of 39. I recently visited her grave and it felt weird. Death is just damn weird, isn’t it? I know it’s natural but it still makes no sense to me, especially when it is someone so young. And of course, every loss hurts no matter what age. I hope each day is a little easier for you, Nancy. I am thinking of you. xoxo

  5. Number 1–honor our grief, that is the one that gets lost most, I think. We have all these social norms or pressures and we try to conform, and it is very constraining. Hmmm, you’ve made me think about a form of grieving peculiar to my rural home state, of which I’ve been highly critical. I’ll need to rethink that.
    Anyway, thanks for the excellent tips.

    1. CC, I’m curious now about exactly what you mean regarding your state. And yes, the social norms are quite constraining when it comes to grief too. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  6. Hello Nancy,

    These thoughts are all so very helpful for me.

    It is now five years since my dear husband died, and although I now plan to make Christmas special (I have no children or family) for myself by travelling over Christmas with a group and by attending wonderful musical events and services, this year I felt the emotions of grief and loss even more acutely than I have other years.

    That surprised me, but, after acknowledging the grief and its erratic dips and sideswipes, I did manage to have a lovely time. Perhaps the story book setting helped. The change helped, too. So did seeing familiar faces I’d seen on previous trips. But the “aloneness” in the midst of such a family oriented time seemed to unsettle me this year more than it usually does. One’s friends are all tied up with their own families.

    Thank you for making this a place where grief, even years down the road, can be expressed and acknowledged.
    Thank you for providing a haven for those of us who seem “out of sync” with the world rushing by. Thank you for allowing us to “just be” without having to perform to a certain standard of expectation. All this is calming and freeing and comforting.

    Honey Bee

    1. Honey Bee, Thank you for your kind words. I am humbled by them. You expressed so well exactly what I want this space to be, a safe haven for all of us to just be. Again, thank you. My best to you in 2017 and beyond.

  7. Hi Nancy,

    I’m playing catch-up. This is an excellent post with such helpful advice. I love all your points, but I especially love the first one — “honor your grief.” I’ve never quite thought of it that way. I’m sorry about your dad, and the holidays must’ve been so difficult without him.

    I’m grieving for my cat right now. I know she was just an animal, but for 15 years she helped me — through cancer treatment, divorce, and various other life changes. I’m really angry at cancer right now, because that’s why I made the decision to put her to sleep; she had an aggressive form of cancer. I cry for her regularly. I feel the ebb and flow as you say because some days I’m OK, and other days my heart simply breaks.

    1. Beth, I’m going to make a real effort to honor my grief in 2017. I know I’m sorta expected to be done with the bulk of it by now, but I’m not. And I don’t care. I will be writing more about grief this year, I’m sure. I am so sorry about Cossette. She was more than just a cat, she was part of your family. She was part of your support system during some rough times. And good times, too, of course. I always call Sophie (and Elsie) by secret keepers and eyewitnesses. They saw a lot. And yes, it’s cruel when cancer snatches our dear pets too. Wishing you good things and a healing heart in 2017, my friend. xx

  8. Grief ebbs and flows. My parents are gone eight years now and little things will make me very sad all over again. My best friend’s mother died last week. Our mothers weren’t great friends, but knew one another because of our friendship. But I can’t help thinking about mom while I am trying to support Mary. Also, a work colleague said to me “you’ve never been the same since your parents died. You need to get beyond it.” when she was angry with me. I thought I was ‘handling it’ well. I blew up at her. Grief is not something that you can limit to a specific time or will away.

    1. Linda, Your work colleague’s comment was very insensitive. Grief is not something you get over after a certain amount of time passes. It’s understandable your best friend’s recent loss of her mother stirred up a lot of emotions for you. Grief definitely ebbs and flows, sometimes taking us by surprise. Thank you for sharing.

  9. This is my 3rd set of holidays without my dad (as well as my mom, who died years ago). I’m getting used to it but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or anywhere near as happy and fun as before. It feels as though the center’s been hollowed out somewhat.

    The first Thanksgiving and Christmas after my mom died my dad wisely (but without really pointing it out) arranged for us to deviate from our usual holiday patterns. It really helped to not be facing doing the same things, in the same house, that we’d always done as an intact family. By the following year, while it was still wrenching, it felt o.k. to resume some of our traditions and patterns. I’ll always appreciate Dad’s insight in giving us that breathing space and helping all of us get through that first year. I would strongly recommend considering something similar to anyone in the same situation.

    I’ve also learned that a death or serious illness in the family affects ALL family members (it’s not just about me!) and not necessarily in the same way. Family dynamics can be thrown way out of whack in unexpected ways – relationships can be strained and everyone is in too much of their own pain to recognize what’s going on with others in the family.

    Having gone through that, I’d say don’t put too much stock in anything said in anger or pain, don’t write off any relationships and try not to take anything too personally. That sibling or adult offspring or whoever may be struggling with their grief and loss just as you are, but “coping” with it very differently. Give things time, stay kind and open and realize that equilibrium has been disturbed but can return eventually. Things will never be the same again but they can be good, albeit in a different way.

    I, too, recommend looking for opportunities to be kind and generous of spirit. Putting something in the Salvation Army kettle, holding a door, sending someone a note, etc., will do us as much good as the recipient. When the world looks bleak and cold sometimes we have to be the light we need in the world.

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