Dealing With Grief During the Holidays

This is an excerpt from my book: Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One:

***

The first year of grief after the loss of a spouse or a life mate is hard because our grief is so new and so raw that it’s all we can do to take one painful breath at a time. All the firsts we experience during this period can make things even harder.

The first holidays are painful. The first wedding anniversary, the first birthdays, the first major holidays. Each of these days brings a greater sense of grief because we are intensely aware that our life mate is not here to experience these once-happy holidays with us. Whatever traditions we developed together become obsolete when only one of us remains to carry on. The pain and the yearning to be together once more during these times can be devastating.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, New Years are the big holidays with the biggest challenges. These special days are family celebrations, and often we are left alone with our memories and our feelings, even if we are surrounded by family.

After Jeff died, I went to take care of my ninety-three-year-old father. That first Thanksgiving, my brothers and sisters-in-law came to have dinner with us. I felt awkward because my widowed father sat at one end of the table, and I sat at the other end in my mother’s place, even performed her hostess duties. Despite that weirdness, it was a nice meal, but as the guests were leaving, two by two, I fell into a deep crevice of grief that took a couple of weeks to crawl out of.

Christmas is even more challenging because if we do opt to join the family in festivities, assuming we have such an option and want to make use of it, our families don’t know what to say to us. They are afraid of saying “Merry Christmas,” because they know there can be no merriment for us. Their fumbling to find something to say makes us so much more conscious of our situation than the rote greeting, “Merry Christmas,” would have done. After all, no one truly is wishing us, or anyone, merriment. It’s simply the thing we say.

We each have to find our own way to deal with the holidays. Talking to someone about our loved one, perhaps sharing a special memory can help, and if there is no one to talk to, writing a letter to our deceased mate can make the upsurge of grief around the holidays easier to handle. There is great power in writing to our dead because it gives us a sense of connection and continuity. We are verbal creatures, so putting our feelings into words can be therapeutic and can decrease the stress of the holidays.

Sometimes we grievers find comfort in doing things the way we always did because it makes us feel closer to our departed loved one. Sometimes we need to create new traditions for us alone, which is how I dealt with the days.

Jeff loved Christmas lights, and since he still lived in my heart, or so people said, I took him for a walk that first Christmas Eve and showed him the abundance of lavishly decorated houses in the neighborhood. As fanciful a notion as that was, it helped.

Over time, as we build new memories on top of the old ones, the emotional resonance of the holidays and anniversaries diminishes, as does the dread leading up to these days. The upsurges of grief we experience soften to a feeling of nostalgia and even gratitude that once we were loved, once had someone to love, once had someone with whom to share our life.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

9 Responses to “Dealing With Grief During the Holidays”

  1. Den Says:

    Over time, as we build new memories on top of the old ones, the emotional resonance of the holidays and anniversaries diminishes, as does the dread leading up to these days. The upsurges of grief we experience soften to a feeling of nostalgia and even gratitude that once we were loved, once had someone to love, once had someone with whom to share our life. >>> when is this supposed to shift? Fifth holiday season upon us and still lumps in the throat, water in the eyes, and pain the heart.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Took me seven years, I think. But I never truly got over the lumps in the throat, water in the eyes, and pain in the heart, especially this time of year. Mostly, I think, I’m just tired of it, so I try to let it go.

      • Den Says:

        Happy Holidays to you Pat. Thanks. I’m 4.5 years out. It feels like ages ago and like last week.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I just checked my blog posts for 4 years, and it seems as if I still had strong upsurges of grief. At almost ten years, I’m pretty much beyond the pain, though I often feel bewildered by the whole thing, and sometimes I still get teary. I still feel the loss inside as an amputation or void that I’ve gotten used to, but our life together was so long ago (and yet not) that I no longer know what to think or feel sometimes. I miss him always, though I don’t often remember him except as a low hum in the back of my mind. I doubt this makes sense; it doesn’t to me, either. Wishing you peace this Thanksgiving and the days and months and years to come.

  2. Lovey Says:

    The day before Thanksgiving…My husband’s favorite holiday.. it’s been over 3 years that he’s been gone, and it hurts just about as much as the first year when it was 4 months that he passed. Dealing with the fact that I am in my late 60s, and my health has taking a beating from the intense grief over losing him, I am worn out and sad, just very sad. And tired, bone tired. As grey and bleak as the November landscape. We can muse over the fact that along with life, death is a reality that we all must face. However for many – the intense trauma of losing a spouse or soul mate hasn’t hit them yet, and the holidays are still happy and busy and something to look forward to with their other half and with whatever form their family takes. And those endless television ads, depicting young parents and energetic kids preparing for the holidays ahead. But to those of us who have lost someone infinitely precious, someone we have shared our most intimate selves with, the pain is almost unbearable. We often marvel at the fact that the grief over losing them hasn’t taken us right along with them. I am also grieving the fact that my wonderful parents are gone, and I miss them as well. Having no children, I can’t get lost in the pleasure of grandchildren, and seeing the holidays thru their precious little eyes.

    So for those of us who have pretty much lived our lives, we can at best tolerate the upcoming holidays without the love of our lives beside us. When the tears and intense longing for our beloved ones threaten to once again dissolve us into puddles of tears & grief, we can look back at the beautiful memories of yesteryear, and be grateful we had that wonderful kind of love in our lives. It just doesn’t help now with the upcoming holidays looming ahead, and the unspoken directive to have fun & enjoy. Just don’t ask me this year.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It makes it especially hard when you’re alone and in poor health. I know what you mean about the marvel that grief didn’t do us in. It’s hard to believe that all that pain isn’t as deadly as it feels. I hope you find some peace tomorrow and the next few weeks. Try to take care of yourself.

  3. Judy Galyon Says:

    It’s interesting how different people deal with grief & the holidays in their own ways! Hope this holiday season is a little easier for you to deal with!


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