Four Truths That Grieving People Wish You Knew During The Holiday Season
As the days of autumn are leaving, the word “happy” will be increasingly woven into our daily conversations. There is no season more full of verbal affirmations than those seasonal months from November through January... and even into February with Valentine's Day.
However, for those of us who’ve recently lost someone we love, the increasing use of the word “happy” stings with sorrow. It is a challenging three - four months for us.
Our grief will not disappear with the many rituals and sentimental activities of the season. In fact, many find that this season often escalates our grief.
We can’t fix it. You cannot fix it. We should not even try. Let’s all let that idea go.
But, we can be more thoughtful of those enduring grief during the holidays.
Although it is mid-summer, many of us who organize events for grieving people are already working on holiday preparedness. If we start talking about this now, ideas will spread and we can work to making this a kinder holiday season for many people.
Here are FOUR THINGS we would like you, the general public, to know during the upcoming holidays…
1. We will be missing them. No matter if it has been 1 hour, 1 year or 10 years.
When we have lost someone that we are deeply bonded to, unfortunately even the most lovely occasion is pierced by moments of pain. Consider it like thorns on the rose. For us, the deceased person is always on our minds to one degree or another.
We have crossed a bridge that we can never return over - it means we lost our innocence and denial and we can't forget that we mourn the loss of a special person, maybe two or three or more. It means constantly feeling an absence of someone or several people we love.
We miss our old selves, too. Our old self will never return, but we hope that the emerging one is even better. Our "carefree self" likely died as we endured our loved one's death. Practically all occasions are tinged with some amount of sadness for us right now.
We are not choosing this. We cannot do anything to change this. There is no amount of music, activities, crazy antics, people or schedules that will alter this shadow over the holiday season for us.
If we can all agree on that, there is more room for things to feel more kind and supportive. Thank you for being a person that understands this as our truth.
2. Social settings and dynamics are extremely challenging when we are grieving.
Please know that being with people who are blissfully unaware of death, loss and grief can be exceedingly painful for us. Merriment can feel almost surreal. Seeing people that still have their intact families and friend cohort groups - this reminds us of what we are living without.
Even when we are with people that are grieving the same losses as we are - family members and friends can be on different timetables and have unique paths of grieving. There is no "wrong way" - there is only yours, but that can feel isolating and lonely. And some people do not allow for other ways of grieving.
For example, some want to “move on.” Others do not believe in such a thing as “moving on” or they do not see themselves as there. Some want nothing to change and want the holiday to be kept the same, others want nothing to stay the same and want to go to a tropical island. Sometimes, the name of the person who died is never mentioned so as not to upset anyone at the gathering. At other times, advice is liberally ladled out on grieving people who have little strength to defend their truth in the moment. Sometimes the one who is deceased was the glue that held everyone together and no one in the group knows how to be together any longer. Think of it as lots of ages, stages and contexts all mixed together with pain.
We do not want to be a downer, we do not want to ruin the fun. And. Holiday gatherings are taxing for even the most extroverted of us. We want and need to be included - but we need to be given lots of space for rest and repose. When you extend an invitation, give us permission to decline, cancel, attend for a brief time or take a walk (break). You can ask us what might make us more comfortable. Allow us to bring a companion should we need it. A majority of us want to speak and hear the name of the person who died or listen and be free to tell or hear stories about the deceased.
Often we cannot shift our energy for long periods of time for a social gathering. Please understand that.
Let's just say - this combination of grief, the holidays and socializing counts as some of the hardest stuff people encounter. Families: encouraging people to give everyone a lot of room for their emotions. Try to make space for hugs and gentle care. Friends: spending one-on-one time with us if you can and inviting us to decompress with you can often be welcome. Thank you for being a supporter of us.
3. Our tears are a release - please welcome them.
“Tears are the noble language of eyes, and when true love of words is destitute. The eye by tears speak, while the tongue is mute.” ― Robert Herrick
Tears are the most common language of grief. They can, at the same time, be unwelcome and awkward - particularly during “happy” seasonal events. Please know - we seldom can control when we cry. We all need to remember that tears are not the enemy, ourselves included. In fact, they are a helpful way that our bodies work to off put stress and pain. Let us know that our tears are not only ok, but accepted. Know that if YOU cry when listening to us that we receive it as a tender gift. Give us the ability to excuse ourselves when emotions are too much in a social setting. Ask if we want company. Please let our yes be yes and our no be no. Thank you for making space for our tears.
4. In the midst of a noisy season, your listening matters.
Our feelings of loneliness and isolation may likely increase in these three - four long months. We are often out of sync with the world during the holidays. We know there are a lot of things competing for your attention - that may have once been our reality too. We know that you have limited time. Our time may become slower and more empty. Arrange to call or text us or send an e-card. When you call and ask us how we are truly doing, you give us the gift of time, a gift far more expensive than any purchased gift. Forget worrying over formulating in your mind what you are going to say next. We know that what we are saying is challenging and you may be prone to mental distractions. Therefore, it is a real gift when you are attentive and actively listening for a segment of time. Even if you have heard it all before, your patience lets us know that you understand. We need to say it more than you need to hear it. Thank you for listening to us.
These four things can make a difference in a grieving person’s experience of the holiday season. Thank you for caring - and please, share this article to help others learn how to better support grieving people.
For more support, join us. Alive and Mortal - aliveandmortal.org.