When Grief Hits the Holidays
Ah, the holidays. When someone mentions "the holidays," I bet your mind immediately goes to the time between November and January. For most people, this is a period of time devoted to family, people we love, and celebrations. What if this upcoming holiday season won't bring those things? What if this upcoming holiday season means a series of firsts without your wife, sibling, child, or any other person whom you loved deeply?
Regardless of the relationship, those firsts are difficult. From my personal experience, I think these big holidays can be more trying on us physically, emotionally and spiritually when we are grieving. Are you dreading Thanksgiving dinner? Christmas morning? The eight nights of Chanukah? New Year's Eve? Traditions are wonderful. Though when you are facing a long-standing tradition with a gaping hole in it, that tradition can seem like the salt waiting to be poured into your freshly-cut heart. This analogy may seem extreme, but for those of us facing holidays for the first time without that person, it seems spot-on.
At this time of the year, we are ever aware of the changes that are occurring around us. How quickly the months pass us by. Then comes the cooler weather, rain, wind, falling leaves and, of course, snow. All of this makes us feel cold and raw, like our emotions when experiencing a loss.
Tears, darkness, barrenness, loneliness and other overwhelming emotions—we tend to feel these more when there is a change in the weather. We wonder how we are going to get through this quagmire. We take a few steps forward. But then we are reminded of a loved one which causes that sinking feeling of loss to surround us.
Grief is painful. There are times when it can feel as if an elephant named Grief is on your chest and you're suffocating from the weight. Sleepless nights can lead to headaches and body aches from insufficient rest, tossing and turning. It can feel like cement-weighted boots that keep you from going to your annual Christmas dinner at Grandma's. How can you possibly manage to walk through those doors and see all of the familiar faces while the most important one is missing?
After my daughter died, I literally sneaked out the door of my family's Christmas gathering because I felt like I was suffocating. I could not bear to engage in seemingly meaningless conversations and hear the same phrases of "I'm sure she's better off" and "God knows what He's doing"—or experience the whispers and avoidances from people who didn't know what to say.
It's been several holiday seasons since that first for me, and I can still feel the racing heart, heaviness in my chest, and anxiety starting to build when I think about it. Sharing that personal information is meant to let you know that others experience it and survive. I have attended many family gatherings since then. I have skipped several. Some are still difficult, some are wonderful, and some are filled with the craziness that is sure to invade each event where my family is!
As I say to each person I encounter on their new journey of grief, own it. This is yours and yours alone. Even two parents who have buried a child will grieve that death differently. If it is too much to continue Thanksgiving dinner without your mother, then don't. Find a new way to be with the people you love. But if the thought of missing breakfast at Grandma's on Christmas morning is too much to bear, then go! Do what feels right for you. These important days will affect you in your grief. You may feel incredibly lonely. You may feel anger that there are no presents to buy. You may feel lost, as if you're a willow tree's branches swinging wildly in a storm. You may feel nothing, because numbness envelopes you.
As you go through these next weeks, be kind and gentle with yourself. Do what feels right for you. Reach out to others who have walked this path ahead of you. They can be your best resources for comfort and understanding.
Mountain Valley Hospice has support groups that address different needs. Even if you aren't receiving bereavement services, it's okay to call and ask for bereavement staff support. Maybe a single phone call can get you over the hump. I wish you a holiday season full of peace and comfort.
—Karen Sanders, Guest Contributor
Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today at 336-789-2922 (toll-free 1-888-789-2922).
Tags: Grief Support