Holidays. They’re a time for family and friends. A time when we come together with the ones we love. But as much as we like to paint a pretty picture of the date from afar, up close, many people are dealing with a much different reality. It could be you or someone you know. It’s referred to as “the elephant in the room.” The one everyone tries to ignore, curling up their lips in a smile. As if to say “everything’s okay,” when deep down inside, their core may not match their exterior. It’s what I learned in grief counseling many years ago.
The Big C, Aids, premature heart disease and fatal car accidents. What they all have in common is that they take loved ones from our lives. These few are just a tear drop in the wave of ways they can be taken from us, the few I am intimately familiar with. I’m sure many of you out there have lost loved ones in other forms that are equally as devastating and hold just as much meaning. We blame the reaper for their loss, for doing his job, but the pain is ours to confront and accept. It’s a part of life we sometimes have a hard time accepting when it hits so close to home.
Holidays are often the time when this missing member is most apparent – the piece of your ritual that is no-longer present. The first one to two years will be the hardest. I once heard it compared to a broken limb. This is a rather good analogy. As you must learn to move and get around with a broken leg, say, in a wheel chair, allowances must be made for you to move through a room. People can no longer expect you to jump up and dance at a party. Your limbs will feel weak, achy and sore, in need of much tender care. So is the case in the loss of a loved one.
Now harboring a broken heart, if not a piece of your soul, your friends and family can’t expect you to be overflowing with glee at the holiday affair. Most likely you will not be jumping out of your seat with desires to take that dance floor. You’ll need to make adjustments for your new condition and coddle your broken self just a little.
If you or someone you know is dealing with a loss at the holidays, here are a few things that can help get through the days ahead:
❤ Find a quiet place to write out your feelings and emotions. This might sound painful, but it can help a person work through it. You may even find comfort in getting a special journal for this purpose. The writings are for working through the inner turmoil and don’t need to be shared.
❤ Give yourself permission to express what you’re feeling. This is part of the healing process. If you need to, gracefully excuse yourself from your company and find a private place to let it flow. Believe it or not, it has been scientifically proven that certain brain chemicals in our tears naturally relieve the pain.
❤ Avoid depressants. Even if everyone else at the party is having a drink, it is probably best you pass at this time. If you are already feeling down, the last thing you need is something that will help drag you lower. Grab a sparkling water or cranberry instead. It will look just as festive without the negative side-effect.
❤ Play some music that lifts your spirits. Avoid the tunes that make you melancholy and look for ones that bring you peace and happiness. Avoid songs with special attached meanings to them unless you actually find this to help you.
❤ You may be seeing a theme here, but, avoid activities that were commonly shared activities with the now deceased individual. Or at least, avoid the activities until you have a better grasp on yourself and your loss.
❤ Reading has been known to help people through these rough adjustments. A few good choices would be Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, The Comfort Book for Those Who Mourn by Anna Trimiew or Don’t Take My Grief Away: What to Do When You Lose a Loved One by Doug Manning.
It will feel as if the world is crashing in around you in those first few days, months, even years. But it’s true what they say, it gets easier with time. It’s not that you forget or that you hurt less, but that you hurt less often. And you will, in time, be able to remember with happiness once again. Trust me, it will happen.
Something I like to do is place a candle out on special days in remembrance of the person or persons who passed on, burning it in remembrance of them. It helps keep them ever present at the event we are celebrating. Try it, you might find this ritual in its simplicity very comforting.
For those feeling the sharp pang of a missing loved one, I hope I have helped, even a little bit, guide you to a slightly better place. For those who know someone who has experienced a painful loss, hopefully this has helped you better understand where your friend or co-worker is coming from. All others, thank you for stopping in, I hope you found this post both insightful and helpful.
★ Remember, holidays are an absolutely wonderful time for friends and family. But not everyone is filled with the joy, and sometimes there are enormously great reasons for it, so open your heart and tread lightly. It’s alright if not everyone is jolly with the holiday spirit.
From my family to yours: my son, Gamer, has drawn me a beautiful picture of a holiday tree. He thought it would be alright if I shared it with all of you. So… Happy Holidays for my Gamer.
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41 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room: Dealing with Grief at the Holidays”
Awww, cute picture!
It’s been several years since my grandparents passed, but we still feel their absence. We talk about them and share memories, and I cook dishes that my one grandma always used to bring. I think it’s worse when they die during the holidays, but even then, there are ways to remember that help get us through: my last grandma died at 20 minutes ’till midnight on New Year’s eve, so we always do a toast in her memory.
I think that’s wonderful that you prepare your grandmother’s dishes. That’s a lovely way to remember her at the holiday time. I agree, it’s especially difficult when they pass at the holidays. Death rates are up right at or after the holidays. Many hold out for that special time. It’s tough on those left behind.
P.S. Gamer thanks you!
i lost my younger sister just last month,november 2011 and today is xmas in the philippines and iam still in so much pain and dont know what to do..:(
Ooh sweet Alexa, how I wish I could just reach through the internet lines and give you a big hug. I understand this is a horribly difficult time for you. You’ve had hardly any time to adjust at all. I, too, lost my little sister so I can understand the void you are experiencing. I can tell you it will get more manageable with time, but I won’t lie to you, it won’t be an easy recovery road you travel. I am here if you ever want to talk.
My sister… http://wp.me/p1QtlR-ak
Thanks for this post. I lost my mother in July and it has been bittersweet. My mother had multiple sclerosis and was confined to a nursing home for the last 4 years. She could not come to celebrate with the rest of us at my house and actually had never seen the house I am currently living in. We would go to her nursing home to be with her during their celebrations. I realized while I was decorating that this was the first year she could be with us all over here. It is the first year she can see my new home and how I decorate it. It is the first year she can watch all the chaos at my house as my seven grand kids run through laughing and chasing. In a way, I am glad that she can pop in on all of this. Yet, I am sad that I cannot give her a big hug. It is quite conflicting. I love the idea of the candle…I think I will try it. I still can’t hug it though!
I’m sorry for your loss Karen. The first holiday can be the hardest. I remember mine, fresh out of the grief counseling courses. I would actually picture an elephant in the room with us. But deep down I knew what that elephant really stood for. You have a healthy way of looking at it. I believe she can finally share in the splendor of your decorations, and she just might surprise you. Ask for that hug one night and see what happens. My prayers and thoughts will be with you.
My mother had not been able to be with us in all the chaos we generate with all the grandkids running through the house. I invited her to come watch this year…..we took pictures of the kids doing several things playing together. We found 5 photos with orbs in them. I know she was there laughing at us all!
That’s very cool Karen! I’m glad you had the holiday with your mother after all. 🙂
Gorgeous post, Debra. With recent shootings in L.A., I’ve had victims’ families in my thoughts. I know people will find not only practical tips but ample comfort here. Thanks for opening your big and loving heart up to us!
Thank you August. I thought it only fitting that I pass-it-on. 🙂 I want others to benifit from my experience, and if I can make it easier for them along the way, that’s a bonus. My heart goes out to all victims’ families and friends, everywhere.
Beautiful post, Debra. Sending you lots of holiday love and hugs!
Thank you, Christine. I am sending holiday love and hugs right back to you. 🙂 You are a beautiful person. Never forget!
Wow, I hadn’t thought about that at all. I bet my dad is thinking a lot about my Grandma right now. Thanks for reminding us to be thinking about the losses of others at the time. We can get too caught up in all the presents and candy canes.
You’re welcome Emma. I felt driven to write this. Not so much for myself, but for others. It is easy to get caught up in the commercial side of the holiday and overlook some of the less obvious things around us. Best to you and your family Emma. 🙂
Lovely post, Debra. Your thoughts and ideas for dealing with grief over the holidays is very comforting. Loads and loads of hugs to you this holiday season.
Thank you Tameri! Loads and loads of hugs right back at cha! 😀 I am glad you found them comforting. May your family have a blessed holiday!!!
Thank you for this post. I k ow many families who have lost a loved one around the holidays, which makes this time of year very difficult. We’ll be missing a member of our family for the first time this holiday season and I hope we can all cherish and share memories of her to get us through. I love your suggestions.
Also, tell Gamer is Christmas tree is awesome:)
I’m sorry for your loss Kara. My heart goes out to you and your family. The first Christmas is always the hardest. My thoughts and prayers will be with you. Thank you for your kind words to Gamer. I will pass them along.
What a kind compassionate person you are Debra. And may we remember your advice throughout the year as well. My husband and I lost three parents in three and a half years. It was rough to say the least. And it took years to get over. They say at least two years when it is a parent. Thank you for your caring words. They are truly sincere. 🙂
Wow Karen, I know that was hard. No matter how prepared you think you are, you are never ready when the time comes. I know. Heart felt blessing to you and yours. May each year get easier. ❤
Thank you for such a beautifully written, compassionate post. It’s so hard for our society to come to grips with the grief of dying. You have given truly given your readers help and hope.
Thank you Serena. That was the hope. Now the post will be here for anyone in need and searching. Grief is a hard thing to swallow.
Beautiful advice, Debra. Thankfully, time heals. We lost our father in late 2009 and the first years was the hardest. And while each year gets easier, he is never forgotten. Thank goodness for our memories. 🙂
Yes, memories should always be cherished – our loved ones never forgotten. What you have written about your father is beautiful. You love shone through that day when you spoke about shopping for the right resting place. And you are right it does get easier with time. How much time will be different for each individual.
Beautiful post, Debra, thanks for sharing the advice. I think I’m still at the place where keeping my mind busy as often as I can, and off the subject, works best. Chemicals or no, I find that if I get to the point where I need to cry, it’s time to think about something else. Not to mention the fact that crying leaves me feeling completely wrung out and exhausted. But the advice you give is good for normal, non-cowardly people. 🙂
And I agree…Gamer’s tree is adorable!
I understand that Kristy. Crying gives me headaches and exhausts me as well. But in the end, it’s good. I spent a lot of years avoiding, when you are ready to face it, the fresh wound will hurt at first but the healing will be the best thing ever. When you’re ready.
What an absolutely beautiful post and so thoughtful Debra. I loved it. I loss my father 20 years ago when I was 16 and it took me a lot of years to get to where I felt I had my Christmas spirit again. Reworking traditions was sooo hard but eventually enough time passed where it wasn’t quite as painful. When my mother-in-law was killed in 2009, our family struggled once again. Christmas 2009, we didn’t even put up a tree. It’s getting easier and easier each year although it is hard and she’s always missed.
I think your advice was spot on. I think accepting maybe that for a few years, Christmas simply won’t be the “festive” occassion it once was is helpful. Like not putting up a tree in 2009 and being ok with having a really low-key Christmas to ease through it. As a family, you have to accept that…it’s takes time heal…
I LOVED your suggestions about burning a candle in remembrance of that special someone. I am going to do that this year. Wonderful – thank you sooo much!
Oh Natalie, it had to be so hard losing your father at such a young age. I can’t imagine. I had a hard enough time when my father passed and I was much older. And to feel the pain to such an extent as to not put up the tree, your poor family. My heart goes out to you and your husband. I think you’ll find the candle burning a warm ritual. I’m rather fond of it. – You’re very welcome. Thank you for including me in your Linky Love yesterday. ❤
Such a generous and beautiful post, Debra. Several years ago my mother died shortly before Christmas, and I cannot approach the season without thinking of her. Like Jennette, I try to make special dishes that she made and set out a few of her things next to candles.
Please thank Gamer for the wonderful tree! Happy Holidays to you and your family.
I am sorry for your mother and that her passing was so close to the holiday. That’s always tough. I like how you choose to remember her. I’m sure she would be very appreciative. It’s very thoughtful.
Thank you for your kind words to Gamer, I will pass them along, and to my family. Happy Holidays to you and yours as well!
Gamer’s pic is really good. He’s very gifted.
And so is his mom. Thanks for this post, Debra. I know that the holidays are the hardest time of the year for many people. This is such a helpful post, and I think it’s great that you were a grief counselor. I’ll remember these tips for the day I have to face such a loss, and also pass your info on to others who need some kind of tools to help them cope.
Thank you Lynn. Funny story – he actually has a lot of drawing that are a lot better than this and we have been wanting to put him in an art school. He has been hoeing and humming. The other day I had my art portfolio down for some reason. He came in the room holding a piece of paper with a drawing on it and said, “Did you draw this?” Complete awe in his voice. “Well yes I did.” I replied. “This is really good!” He emphasized ‘really’ and ‘good’ and his eyes popped out of his head when he said it. I had to hold back my laughter. It was really cute. But I don’t have one ounce the talent he has. I need to look at something to draw it. I pulls things out of his head and creates. That’s talent!
Thank you Lynn on your kind words regarding this piece. I am not a trained counselor but have had more than my fair share of loss. We won’t get into numbers, but I have had sufficient experience in the area. I thought others should benefit from what I have to offer. If I can ever help in any way…
Wonderful post, Debra. My husband lost his dad a couple months ago and this Christmas will be the first one without him. The hubby has a large family but the presence of his dad will be very noticeable.
Thank you for sharing these great tips – they are very helpful. And the picture that Gamer drew is fantastic. He is growing to be an artist 🙂
I’m so sorry Angela. This is a raw season for you. Maybe this would explain the lack of enthusiasm over the holiday? Sometimes it can affect us without us even knowing it. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. *Hugs*
Thank you Angela for the kind words and the compliments to Gamer. ❤
Indeed it is the elephant in the room. This holiday season is my toughest and loneliest , i have ever experienced for many reasons. Sound advice thank you.
I am so sorry to hear that Paul. Hang in there. I’m sure you know this, but there are support groups if you feel you want company – people that are going through the same thing as you. I know it’s tough, extremely tough, but it really will get easier.
I didn’t include this above, but another helpful aid is to visit the grave site. Take something with to leave, have a conversation, sit and contemplate, clean the area around the plaque. My uncle did this every week at my aunt’s grave site for years. He was a dedicated man. It may be a place for you to connect and find solace.
You’re welcome Emma. Happy Holidays.