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:

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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.

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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.

Two Years and One Day of Grief

Today I embark on my third year of grief since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I am now in uncharted territory.

The first year of grief passes in a blur of angst, emotional shock, myriad physical reactions, painful surprises about the nature of loss and grief, and the almost impossible effort of going through the chores of living.

The second year of grief is one of learning to deal with the truth that he is dead, and that there is nothing you can do about it. No matter how well you deal with your grief, no matter how you rise to the challenge of life without him, he is not coming back. You knew this, of course, but now it has seeped deeper into your consciousness, and you feel it with every breath you take. Because of this, the second year (or at least parts of it) can be worse than the first. What makes the second year even harder to face is that you’ve used your grief card. Everyone thinks you should be over your grief, and they have little patience for your continued tears. They urge you to get on with your life, but they don’t understand that this is how you are getting on with your life.

The third year of grief is . . . I don’t yet know since this is only the first day of this new year. Today feels no different from yesterday or the day before, and I don’t imagine tomorrow will feel any different.

During the past two years, I’ve been looking for the bedrock of my new life — the thing, the idea, the place, whatever that bedrock might be — that gives me a foundation on which to build a future. Mostly, I’ve been waiting for my grief to dissipate so I can find my way, but the truth is, I will always grieve for him, though perhaps not as actively as I have been, because he will always be dead.

Acceptance is supposed to be one of the stages of grief, but I’ve never actually reached that stage (nor did I experience most of the supposed stages of grief). I cannot accept that he is dead for the simple reason that it’s not my place to accept it. Acceptance to me suggests that it is okay, and I will never believe that it is okay for him to be dead (even though I do understand the necessity of it). Perhaps acceptance only means that I accept the reality of my continued sorrow and loneliness.

People tell me that you never do get over such a grievous loss, but that after three to five years you rediscover the importance of living. It might be easier to meet the future head-on if I’m not expecting my sadness to dissipate. Maybe this is my bedrock — the missing, the yearning, the sadness, the loneliness. If so, I just need to accept that they are part of my life, and build from there.