Grieving through the Holidays

The holiday season is challenging for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. This is especially true if the loss has been untimely, sudden, traumatic, or one’s own child. The air crackles with “happy,” holiday music greets at every corner. Everyone is busy decorating, baking, shopping, planning parties, celebrating. Meanwhile, the one in deep grief is still stunned, numb, broken, mired in a life that is suddenly, irrevocably altered.

The one grieving is struggling is get through each day. For some, watching the excitement and happiness of other families and children feels like an assault when your child is gone, missing, never again to be here to celebrate with you.

Don’t Isolate Yourself

Sometimes the anger and unfairness is overwheleming, causing a disconnect, creating a distainful distance, a deserted sense of separateness. There is little desire to socialize because no one truly understands. There is little energy to engage with others because no one will ever really feel what that parent feels at the loss of their child.   That parent has lost not just the life they brought into the world but pieces of their own future. All the hopes and dreams that parent might have had for their own relationship with their child and the experiences they might have shared, the bond that they had or might have developed, are gone.

After 10 years mourning Kirby’s death, I know that sometimes feeling the sadness and longing can bring her back to me. And yet as a mental health therapist, I know that while everyone grieves differently, wallowing in that sadness can become destructive and isolating. I have learned that eventhough others may never truly understand my pain, I still desperately need them. I need to enter their joy to balance my sadness. I need their presence to bring me life in the midst of death. I need their love to know I am not alone.

So, if you are grieving a precious one, allow some light to enter your darkness. Don’t let the darkness win, you can smile and enjoy the company of others. You need their love, presence, their imperfect understanding.

When You’re Someone Else’s Support System

If you are a friend or family member of someone who is grieving, allow them to talk about the person who is gone. Share stories, memories, tears and laughter together, and let your loved one know they are not alone even if you do not fully understand their sorrow. Know that just this simple act of acceptance is such a huge support to your friend or family member in grief.

Creating Space to Grieve

This holiday season, we will vist with family, friends and spend some time with our three children. But I will set up some visits with Kirby too. In my car I will play, “I’ll be Home for Christmas” and cry, missing her vibrant smile. I’ll quietly remember the Thanksgiving that she surprised me by coming home unexpectedly. I’ll think about the best Christmases and the best presents given or received to cherish her and hold her close. Maybe we’ll all tell some great Kirby stories and laugh or cry together. I will never stop grieving my beautiful daughter, but I will never allow myself to die in my grief. My Life is a precious gift. I believe I honor her by living as she did: with passion, purpose and joy.

Have a blessed holiday season in the midst of the messiness of a life that has been shattered. Love and time will bring some healing and quiet peace.

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If you’re close to the grief experience, you may also appreciate Jean’s recent article on Elephant Journal, another reflection on grieving.

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