It starts earlier every year it seems. Holiday decorations hit the shelves the week before Halloween in my area. It’s crazy. As though you need more reminders that the holidays are coming. Looming.
This time of year adds an extra measure of pain to people already bearing more than they can, more than they should ever have to. There is the empty seat at the table, the heaviness of all the ways the one you love is missing, traditions that have gone flat, smacking against the empty place.
Death, illness, massive life events – they all sour the season in ways those outside your loss can’t understand.
Whether you’ve always loved the holidays, or avoided them as best you could, the first several seasons after a loss or big life event can well and truly suck. So many people want to make this a “good” holiday for you. Part of your family wants traditions to stay exactly the same, others want to change everything. Conflicting desires, broken hearts, lots of attention when you’d rather just hide in your blanket fort until the whole thing is over – it’s too much.
Given that this season is going to be rough, how will you survive?
- Say no a lot. Really. Other people will tell you you should say yes to things, get out more, be social. You know what? No. If “being social” gives you the hives, why on earth would you do that? Remember that “no” is a complete sentence. You can say “no, thank you” if you must say more.
- Choose your gatherings. If you do choose to attend something holiday-ish, choose wisely. Sometimes a big crowd is easier than a small one, because you can slip out un-noticed as you need to. While a small gathering might have been most comfortable in your life Before, those intimate things can feel more like a crucible now, with people watching to see how you’re doing.
- Find companionship; or find ways to be alone-together with others. Musical offerings, candlelight meditations or services — check those little local newspapers and see what’s going on in your community. A fantastic place to be alone-together with people who really get grief is the Writing Your Grief community. A new session opens November 16th. We’ve always got room for you. Click here to join our community.
- Volunteer. The first Thanksgiving after Matt died, I volunteered in the local soup kitchen. It was an “acceptable” reason for not attending family obligations, and also a way I could serve others in my own quiet way.
- Have a plan. Before you go to a party or an event, be sure to make your exit plan clear — with yourself. Give yourself an out, whether that is a specific time limit or an emotional cue that lets you know it’s time to go. Stick to your plan.
- Check in with yourself. This is true not just for events and gatherings, but for every single moment of life: check in with yourself. Take just a minute to breathe, one good inhale/exhale, and ask yourself how you’re doing. Ask yourself what you need. It may be that the piped in Christmas carols at the grocery store are just too much. Maybe you need to leave now — just abandon that cart in the aisle. Or maybe you feel like you can push through, so you put your emotional blinders on and sing yourself some other song to blot out the noise. Give yourself what you need in that moment.
Which brings me to my favorite anytime-not-just-the-holidays tip:
- LEAVE WHENEVER YOU WANT. Please remember that this is your life. You do not have to do anything that feels bad or wrong or horrifying. Even if you agreed to participate in something, you can change your mind at any time. Stop whatever you’re doing whenever you want.
The holidays are going to hurt, my friend. That is just reality. Whether you are missing someone who should be part of the festivities, or you are missing someone who shared your love of quiet acknowledgment over raucous partying, this season will add some to your grief.
Companion yourself. Care for yourself. Listen. Reach out where it feels good to reach, curl in when that is what you need. Make this season as much of a comfort to you as you can.
Struggling through the holidays sucks. Please share this post in your online communities. Every day, more people enter the world of grief. Sharing this post helps them find the support they need. Let’s make our love and support, our companionship inside grief, really easy to find. Click the share buttons at the bottom of the post.
How about you? What is your biggest challenge coming into this season? Leave a comment to let us know.
For knowing. For writing it down.
I’m sorry you have to know. I wish none of us did.
I *wish* some people around me did – so they could stop needing me to love holidays.
January can’t come soon enough.
Carol Ruffo says
You couldn’t have said it better…..I am right there with you!!!!
Liz Canterbury says
Agreed. I just want to skip the next couple months altogether
My Info says
My beloved husband died in October after a prolonged illness. I thought I was prepared for his death. I grieved before and now after. This is soul pain and so many people have said to me that I have my memories of our life together. True but they don’t make up for my loss. I am going to spend Christmas at a lodge in the mountains and draw on their energy. I can’t handle the idea of decorating the house, the tree – not this year, not this year.
Diane Gauss says
Same here, My husband died October 22, 2018. There is no way I am even remotely ready for the Holiday Season. I can not wait until Spring, too many memories to deal with Winter this year.
My husband and I survived a catastrophic headon collision in July. He has started walking without his walker for about ten feet a day this week, but I lost him to head trauma and injury and I miss him so much I have stopped crying and talking, except when needed.
Our lives changed in that split second, he would have been back in Afghanistan and I should be pregnant or doing IVF and looking to buy a new home. Now we go to PT together and push him to try harder for longer while I hold us, the house, the animals together and mourn our lives, he cheers me on and talks to our doc about me and his worries. I have stopped people talking to me about it in church, I wanted one place where I can have sanctuary from the accident and just be, instead of picking up the pieces over and over.
Thank you for this site.
Laurie Krug says
Our only child died in a motor vehicle accident in June. December was always a very busy month for our family- our anniversary, our daughter’s birthday, Christmas and Hanukkah. We are struggling. Finding ways to honor our daughter and just stay sane this holiday season is difficult enough without people declaring that our choosing not to celebrate in our usual way is “wrong”. Thank you, Meghan, for making me feel less crazy.
I am so drained from “sucking it up” from Thanksgiving. The kids all went home and now I sit in my empty house –tree up, lights up outside. So tried. We decided to place my husband’s cowboy hat on the top of the tree. It has only been 2 1/2 months. Glad to know others understand
My husband died of lung cancer in September. On our 49th anniversary. I’m having teddy bears made out of his shirts for the grandchildren and our daughters (and yes, one for me). I can’t seem to move out any of his clothes until those teddies arrive. I don’t know how my daughters are going to feel about what I’ve done, but I like the idea. A little piece of him. Christmas has always been hard for me. I am picking and choosing what I will do, but for sure I will hunker down with the family and just let it happen. With young children we will be making new memories, but last year will be heavy on our minds. Thinking of all of you as you move through Christmastime. Whether it’s the first or the tenth. Doesn’t seem to matter. It’s hard.
Awe everyone’s heart felt experiences have me in tears my mums Bessie made me a pillow out of a couple of her shirts, I have at least another 500 shirts xx
I lost my mother tragically and suddenly on July 8th. I’m the one who found her body. She was 56. I am 33. The anniversary of her birthday was hell. Going through her belongings was hell. Taking her favorite pillow and sleeping on it every night to smell her has given me some comfort. I now find the impending dark days of winter and holidays casting a horrible spell over my mood. I want to be left alone, completely, and isolate. I want to curl up like a snail in her shell. My actions as of late are uncharacteristic of me. Making choices I never would have done before, self harming behavior, lack of motivation, basically not giving a damn, seeking affection in inappropriate places all in a helpless effort to fill the hole she left in me. I talked to her the night before she died. She was fine. I don’t know how to get help. I fear I am stuck in the grief and that is the one thing the grief therapists said you cannot let happy because it will consume you. I live in a fog day in and out. I have disassociation. I don’t care anymore.
Jessica, I hope you are feeling even slightly better now the lighter days and evenings are approaching. Losing your mum at an early age is a terrible thing, in fact its terrible in all ways and at all times. Your post really spoke to me and I am full of compassion for your loss and struggle.
My sister committed suicide on December 31, 2010. Enough said.
My significant other deliberately overdosed on 12/21/11, & lingered in the hospital until she died on 12/28/11. Yes, enough said.
Judy ferguson says
My daughter passed on July 18. The loss is beyond words. She died of cancer at the age of 54. She left 3 adult children and I must be strong for everyone. The holidays were her favorite time of year I don’t want to go on without her
Thank you for all the advice. I have been a ball of anxiety since June, because of Christmas. My daughter (Stephanie) 30yrs old, died suddenly December 23, 2017. Although it is technically our 2nd Christmas without her. It feels like the 1st year because, I was still in shock and, numb. Last year all I wanted to do is crawl back in my bed and, skip Christmas. I have my oldest daughter and, her son , 11 yrs old (Autistic) that lives with me. I also want to try to make it a joyous day for him. I know that’s what my daughter would want. It is going to be very challenging for me.
Thank you again
Carol Morgan says
This will be the 2nd Christmas without my darling husband, he had awful Christmasses as a child, but loved our Christmasses, his eyes would sparkle when he woke up for work, to see what i had been doing all night decorating the house while he slept, we had a tradition, which i kept up last year, and will do so again this year, i would clean the house, then on Christmas eve i would prep all the vegetables, then we would have a bath together, we would have bought each other new pyjamas, new robes and new slippers, then we would lay together on settee with a glass of wine watching a Christmas film or a dvd, last year i stayed with one of my sister’s, but i had a bath, put on my new pj’s, robe & slippers, and put a dvd on, raised a toast to him, then cried like a baby, i miss my life with him, i miss who i was with him, but mostly i just miss him.
I’m so pleased to stumble here. My mother died when I was 3, shrouded in mystery and drama. It is an irreparable wound that fogs my every day. My father died when I was 15 after a traumatic course of esophageal cancer. In my youth, I was able to easily forgive him for killing her, but my anger has swelled off and on since. It’s more on than off these days… I lost my college roommate at 30, my ex-husband at 32, and my grandfather who raised me and was the stable peaceful force in my life this year, at 34. All amidst a backdrop narrative that told me I would commit suicide at age 33. Loss defines my life, and sometimes I just want another life. In childhood I loved the holidays, but the past 6-8 years have been miserable. I don’t know how to fix myself, but this community seems like a good start. Thank you for your empowering advice, and thank you all for sharing yourselves. It gives me strength today.
When you think of suicide remind yourself that the people who love you will feel the pain you feel. That thought has made the difference for me.
This season is such a struggle. The grocery store ads, car ads, amazon, target, Walmart, on and on. It’s impossible to watch tv without reminders of families gathered around the table, skiing, playing in the snow.
Such painful reminders to this of us who have lost loved ones and will not be having family gatherings around the table, or playing in the snow. It seems the only reprieve is to turn off the tv.
“Helpful” friends say we should attend holiday gatherings where we’re only aware of being a party of one. The best escape method is to stay at home.
Going into my fourth holiday season is somewhat easier but I’m anxious for it to be done already. Too many painful reminders.
I’m so glad I found this supportive community, those who understand the pain.
Lee-Ann Vogel says
This will be my third Christmas without my daughter, who died in a horrific car accident August of 2017… just last night I completely lost it, wrote a huge post to the Facebook group of The Compassionate Friends, a group for grieving parents who’ve lost a child. I just am overwhelmed with the barrage of Christmas that starts November 1 and continues into January…. I don’t need any more reminders that Katie is gone from me and my family. But that is the glaring message I get, shouted at me through movies, advertisements, commercials, store p.a. Systems, shopping malls, schools…. the message that my Christmas family, so perfectly depicted in song and in vision everywhere, is now so horribly flawed; torn apart; fractured; not the norm; damaged. The family I once dreamed of has been torn apart by this monster named grief. And that monster has my darling daughter clenched in it’s dreadful jaws, it shakes her lifeless body mockingly in my face, tormenting me with that horrendous truth: “She’s gone…. she’s gone….Katie’s gone, and Your life is upended right now”….for however long, who knows. It feels like forever already, and yet at the same time it feels like yesterday that I answered that loud persistent knocking on my front door at just before 7 am, a strange time to have people at your door, for sure. The combination of those facts, registering and computing within my just-women-up brain, sounds alarms, get the heart pounding, and it’s when you open the door carefully that all of a sudden your throat is parched dry and you find you can’t breathe as you first catch sight of the two uniformed grim faced RCMP officers standing on the other side…….
I think I’m going to get ear plugs for when I have to go into the grocery store from now on, for during this season that I once welcomed with delight.
Hearing “ I’ll Be Home For Christmas” wafting through the speakers above, even if just one more time, will be my final undoing.
Maybe next year I’ll be stronger.
( I miss you Katie-Bird, forever and ever, up to the moon and back.)
I was just thinking the same thing before I read your comment…I need to start keeping ear buds in my purse again for drowning out all that music in stores. Thank you for saying that. I thought maybe I was just being crazy.
Rita Anderson says
For me its the loneliness, of being on my own…….I still have my memories of happy holidays, happy Christmas times, now the days drag on….guess many people are in the same situation….xx
Terry Murray says
Everyone in my immediate family – mother, father, and two years ago, my kid sister – died within 2 weeks of Christmas.