I never imagined having to deal with grief during the holidays. It was never in my plan to deal with grief at all. No one plans it. Yes, I have had my share of loss and sorrow, but this is nothing compared to what I and my family are now going through. Grief is complicated and when the holidays come up, it makes it even more so.
I realize we are still new to this journey. I do not have all the answers and honestly, I still ask a lot of questions of those who have been on this path longer than we have. This is only our 2nd year of holidays without our son. However, because we were still in acute grief when most of his firsts came around, we are technically pretty fresh to grief and the holidays. We have been told by many that year two is harder. I am not sure about that, but it is definitely hard. So far Thanksgiving wasn’t too bad, but then the weekend hit really hard. Now we are preparing for our son’s 25th birthday and how we should honor him even though he isn’t right here with us? on top of that, we have to prepare for Christmas and other birthdays this month.
What is Grief?
Grief isn’t just about the loss of a loved one. That is the most intense and can last the longest, well a lifetime, but it can occur with any loss. Grief can be from the loss of a job, a marriage, a home, a dream, and more. Grief is said to have stages but, in all reality, that is misleading. I remember early on, I would go through every “stage”, every day, several times a day, and in no particular order. I still do.
Types of Grief
According to psychology, there are several types of grief (Bing search). Some include:
- Anticipatory grief: grief that occurs before loss actually happens, such as when a loved one is terminally ill.
- Normal or common grief: grief that lasts 6 months to 2 years following a significant loss and gradually subsides over time.
- Complicated (Complex) grief: grief that is prolonged, intense, and interferes with daily functioning.
- Delayed grief: grief that is postponed or suppressed until a later time.
- Inhibited grief: grief that is not expressed outwardly due to social or cultural norms.
There is even more.
Griefline https://griefline.org.au/resources/types-of-grief/ talks about others including specific grief due to child loss and even suicide. If you need more info or resources, they have them on their website. There are other great sites like http://www.griefshare.org which helps with any loss of a loved one and https://whilewerewaiting.org/which is for parents of child loss only.
For this article, I want to focus on grief from the loss of a loved one.
Grief and the Holidays
The holidays seem to bring back all the memories! But when many or all of the memories are of someone you love, that is not here anymore, well it can make for some real emotional waves and roller coasters. I have been told that this is normal. It doesn’t feel normal, and it doesn’t even seem real at times. I can’t see how someone can get through the holidays without having those emotions. I am being told there are some things that can help us get through this time of year.
We have to allow ourselves that time to grieve. If you’re not the “main griever” you have to allow that person time to grieve. It doesn’t matter how far out the loss is. Grief does not get smaller and does not go away. We have to learn to live with it. The only way we can is to allow it.
Don’t Stay in It
We have to allow it, but we can’t stay there. Yes, I know there are days I don’t even want to get out of bed, I could stay there all day crying and thinking about everything that has happened, but I can’t. You can’t, there is no way we can possibly find happiness staying in bed or avoiding doing everything.
Make the Plans
Make all the plans and know that if the day comes, you can back out. It’s ok. You have to do what is best for you and your emotional health. I can tell you from experience though, that even when I did want to back out but then forced myself to go or do the thing, it was really good. It was good for my soul, for my kids, for my family and friends. It may take every ounce of energy to get through it, but it was so worth it.
Yes, make the plans but don’t be afraid to say no. Maybe decide what you can handle during this season and stick with that. If you can only handle one thing a week, that’s ok. And don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry but I am just not able to handle that this year, I pray I can join you next year. ”
Have an Exit Plan
Eric and I attend a Zoom meeting through WWW (While We’re Waiting). One of the dear mamas who leads that meeting; Nan Deal, is many years ahead of us in this journey and she tells us
to always have an exit plan. So go on and go to that party, but ahead of time make a plan. For instance, in our family, we told the kids if at any point they are done (or either of us is) then they are to let us know and we will leave. No questions asked. And the other kids/spouse have to be respectful of that person’s need to leave.
It is ok to change it up. You don’t have to decorate & do all the things you did in the past. For instance, last year we didn’t put up our normal tree or drag out all the decorations. We went with the bare minimum and bought an LED light lawn ornament tree and just put that year’s ornaments on it. This year it is a smaller tree with a Grinch theme. It made the littles happy but the rest of us didn’t have to see all the ornaments from years past that we were not ready to face. Whatever you need to do is ok.
Talk About Your Loved One
There is something so therapeutic in talking about them. Sharing stories and memories. Laughing and crying, remembering all the things. If you are a friend or relative of those who are grieving. Please don’t be afraid to bring them up. They are very much a part of our lives even still; they lived and are loved. We know they are not with us; you won’t remind us of that, we never forget. But it lets us know that you have not forgotten them. It means a lot to us.
Honestly, enjoy your family and activities. Unfortunately, we know too well that life is too short. As much as I hate when people say it, it’s true; I know our son would not want our family to not enjoy the holidays. He loved them. He loved seeing the joy in giving, being with family, eating all the food, seeing all the lights, the parades, and his favorite, the Fire Department toy drive. I am sure your loved one would want you to enjoy them too. They would not want you to dwell in sorrow and not feel the joy. Joy and sorrow can exist together. It took me months to learn that, but it can.
Joy in the Holidays
There is so much joy to be had during the holidays. It is not easy to always find it; because, even with all the tips and planning, grief is a thief. It doesn’t matter who you are or how far removed from the loss you are, it will steal your happiness. Not always but you never know when. For us Christmas morning, seeing all the joy from our kids was wonderful but there was an underlying painful sadness that won’t leave. Our son is not here. So, one moment we were smiling and the next crying. I am not sure how we will feel this year. I pray it’s more gentle than last year.
Here is the thing, Joy, true Joy is only found in Christ. And as cliche as it is, Jesus is the reason for the season. He came to this earth with nothing. He gave up all of heaven to be a sacrifice for us. He gave himself that all tribes and nations can have salvation and eternal life. I am thrilled to say that our son is with his savior in Glory, and we have hope to see him again. So, our joy is not found in the holidays as they are but because of what they represent. Yes, we still have a broken heart and hurt with the loss of our son, but the joy of the Lord is what gives us strength to get through every day. It doesn’t have to be all grief during the holidays.
Please know that you too can have that kind of joy even in the depths of great grief and sorrow. He hears your every cry, and he saves every tear. He knows our hurt and wants to comfort us. He loves us, He loves you.