top of page

Grief During the Holidays

Ahhhh ... The Holidays are approaching quickly. “The holidays are times spent with our loved ones.” This has been imprinted on our psyche from a young age. Holidays mark the passage of time in our lives. They are part of the milestones we share with each other and they generally represent time spent with family.

But since holidays are for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with them when a loved one has died? For many people, this is the hardest part of grieving, when we miss our loved ones even more than usual. How can we celebrate togetherness when there is none?

When you lose someone special, your world lacks its celebratory qualities. Holidays magnify that loss. The sadness deepens and the loneliness can feel isolating. The need for support may be the greatest during the holidays. Pretending you don’t hurt and/or it isn’t a harder time of the year is just not the truth for you. But you can – and will – get through the holidays. Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them. It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. No one can take that pain away, but grief is not just pain, grief is love with nowhere to go.

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to deep loss. We do everything we can to avoid the pain it came and deposited inside of our hearts. We do what people tell us to do, you know the myths by now:

  • Don't Feel Bad

  • Replace the Loss

  • Grieve Alone

  • Be Strong for Others

  • Give it Time

Does any of these myths about grief actually help with the pain? The answer is no. But here's what it does do. When someone tells you, "Don't feel bad," and they may even go as far as to tell you why you shouldn't feel bad. The truth is they are not comfortable with your pain.

If you have lost a spouse/partner/divorce, or worse, a child, they may even tell you to replace the loss. They'll say things like, "There are plenty of fish in the sea ... Just go find someone else to fill the void. So, maybe you do that, and yet your heart quickly discovers you cannot replace the loss. Some people have told parents, "Well, at least you have other children, you should be grateful." OR "You're still young, you can have another child." OUCH! I can't even imagine the pain of burying a child. As parent of three, I love them all, and I love them differently. We each have our own unique relationship and I could never replace any of them. Ever.

You may give it time, and that leads you to the isolation of greiving alone. You've put on the mask and have learned the hard way, to just tell everyone who asks, "How are you doing?" You reply with, "I'm fine." and yet, deep within you know better. Your heart is feeling as if it had been shredded into tiny pieces and you don't where to start to get it back to the way it was before the loss.

The harsh reality is that you may start seeking of outlets to relieve the pain you feel. You've discovered all of those well-intended logical pieces of advice just aren't working for you. So you may begin to shop, or as we call this in recovery, do a little 'retail therapy.' You may hit happy hour after a long, stressful day. Alcohol may relieve the pain, but only short term. You may reach out to movies, drugs, sleep, video games, or anything you can to stay busy and not feel the depths of the pain. These are known as Short Term Energy Relief Behaviors - a.k.a. S.T.E.R.B.

I'm Sorry for Your Loss ...

How many times did you hear that one? Did it make you feel sick after a while? Maybe you felt that familiar twinge of anger and just wanted to scream, "IF I HEAR ONE MORE PERSON SAY I AM SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS I AM GOING TO FLIP OUT!!" You know what, You're nomal, and no, you're not going crazy either. I remember snapping at a family member when my sister died and my reply was, "What is it exactly that you are sorry for?" They replied, "Well, she's in a better place." My thoughts were, "No, she's not in better place, that better place would be here, raising her 10 year old and three year old daughters."

I remember the sadness of our first Christmas - the tears, the isolation, the anger that surged. To be told that "Only the good die young," or "God only takes the best," was NOT helping anyone during that season. I carried deep grief, regrets, guilt, and remorse for nearly 28 years after her death. The grief went ahead of me every time her beautiful daughters went to prom, got their driver's license, had their first boyfriend, and the pain of the breakup, graduated high school, married, had their first born child, and the list goes on ...

I share this only to say I relate with what you may be feeling.

Let's get real here for a minute. We all have those would have, should have, and could have kind of thoughts. This is a indication that you have an incomplete relationship with the person you've lost in life. They are no longer here to express how you may have felt, what they truly meant to you, and the things you wished you could have, would have and sho