The misconceptions people have about grief are appalling. Someone asked me today what grievers hope to accomplish by being depressed at Christmas (and not doing anything about it) when the grievers know being depressed won’t bring back their loved one.
As if we a choice about grieving. As if we want to be sad. As if drugging oneself into happiness is a viable choice.
Depression and grief are not choices. They happen whether we want them to or not.
Besides, grief over the loss of a loved one, at Christmas or the rest of the year, is not depression. Clinical depression is being sad for no reason. Grief is its own reason.
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.
The holidays during the second and third and fourth and even beyond can be just as difficult. Not only are our traditions gone along with our loved one, every commercial, every song, almost every movie tells us we should be happy, but all we know is that the person we most want to be with, the person who helped bring us happiness or helped magnify our happiness is gone. Even worse, we often need to pretend to be happy about our situation to keep from ruining the festivities of others.
The grief we feel at this time of year is not a conscious choice and comes even if we aren’t reminded of the holidays.
Our bodies remember the special occasions. Our bodies as well as our minds and spirits grieve, so even if we are able to put our deceased loved ones out of our minds, our bodies grieve for us with an upsurge of adrenaline and a change in brain chemistry.
It takes a lot of energy to try not to remember, not to grieve, which overwhelms the brain and exacerbates the very stresses we are attempting to overcome.
This is all in addition to normal seasonal effects, such as depression from the shorter days and longer nights. It’s also in addition to the normal stresses of the holidays.
No one wants any of this. No one ever thinks grief will bring the loved one back. We wish . . . oh, how we wish for one more smile or one more word, but it’s not going to happen, and we know that. But still, watching others have what we don’t is very painful, even if we are happy for them and their love.
Supposing we could do something about our sadness at Christmas, what do you expect us to do? Drug ourselves into oblivion? That’s a heck of a lot worse than feeling sad. Grief connects us in a tenuous way to our lost love; it’s a way of honoring them, and feeling the pain is the best way to learn to live without our love.
Jeff has been gone long enough that I no longer feel much of an upsurge in grief at this time of year, but I am very aware of what it used to be like for me and what it remains like for many grievers.
So, if you, too, have archaic ideas about grief, like the person who asked the question, please try not to foist your ideas on grievers. After all, one day you might be grieving at Christmas, too.
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.