“Holidays? Yeah, right.” Jamie snorted. “Try celebrating anything while your heart is being ripped in two. The ripping began when he died, and it hasn’t let up since.”
The holidays are normally a stressful time of year. But to face them while immersed in all-out grief can be almost impossible to imagine.
How do we do this? Do we have to? If we ignore them, will the holidays be merciful and just go away?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go there. I don’t even want to think about it.
I remember the year I lost my dad. I was 15. Another family took me in and I was celebrating Christmas with them. They were wonderful, but all I could think about was my dad. I saw him everywhere. I missed him desperately. I was surrounded by blessings, but all I could think about was who was missing.
I grieved. Christmas came and went. It hurt. Badly.
The next year, I dreaded the holidays. When Thanksgiving approached, I could feel myself beginning to go internal. I pulled away from my new family and friends. I spent a lot of time alone. Celebrating in any sense of the word was out of question. Even smiling felt like betrayal somehow.
Another Christmas came and went. The weight of my loss staggered me. I felt alone.
The next few holiday seasons followed suit.
Looking back, I realize my reactions were normal, but I wasn’t grieving well when it came to the holiday season. I wasn’t dealing with my loss, taking myself seriously, or honoring my dad. Frankly, I was stuck in what I call Holiday Grief.
In my years as a hospice chaplain, I’ve discovered again how powerful and disabling Holiday Grief can be. After walking with hundreds of people through this valley, I’ve come to a conclusion: We can either use the Holidays to help us grieve well, or the Holidays will use us.
Is it possible to grieve well during this time of year? Yes.
I believe we can take ourselves and our grief seriously, honor our loved ones, and also love those around us during this Holiday Season. This is the first of four articles I’ll be writing on this, so please stay tuned. Next time, we’ll be talking about why holidays are so hard and what you can do about it.
Your life has changed forever. These holidays will be different. But they can still be good.