The Holidays Can Be Especially Hard for Those Grieving

The death of a loved one can cause tremendous grief, and the holidays often compound the experience of loss to an almost insurmountable feeling.

Grief can have you feeling confused, mindless, overwhelmed, anxious, alone, fatigued, unmotivated, numb, moody, clumsy and restless. You might feel angry, or shocked, or relieved. You might feel that you are not the same person any more, and that those roles that have defined you in the world as a partner, a friend, a child, a parent, a sibling, or loved one don’t look or feel the same. The parts of yourself that have been familiar to you and your family and friends – like your friendliness, your sarcasm, optimism, sense of humor, thoughtfulness, reasonable mind – don’t work so well anymore, and that can have you feeling completely crazy.

Here’s the good news: just because you feel crazy does not mean that you are, and, more significantly, you are not alone. You are normal in the world of grief and grievers.

The holiday season is approaching, and with it there are grievers everywhere who are having many of these feelings. Dealing with loss can be especially hard around this time of year. A griever is already feeling the full weight of missing their loved one, and then the holidays approach, making the feelings of loss even stronger, and, at the very same time, the griever is faced with negotiating the world of holiday music, shopping, gatherings, and general enthusiastic cheer. This can be a really hard time for grievers of any age.

With all of this in mind, I would like to share with grievers (and concerned family/friends) what we in the CarePartners Bereavement Department call “Grief Rights – Holiday Edition”

  1. I have the right to: Choose if, how, when, where, and with whom I observe the holidays
  2. I have the right to: Release the “shoulds” (“I should put up a tree,” “I should send holiday cards,” “I should be feeling better.”)
  3. I have the right to: Ask for and accept or decline help
  4. I have the right to: Experience and accept my fluctuating moods this season
  5. I have the right to: Be gentle with myself (do those optional things I want to and have the energy to do, and not judge myself for whatever decision I make)
  6. I have the right to: Express my feelings
  7. I have the right to: Have a good time (or not)
  8. I have the right to: Keep my house undecorated
  9. I have the right to: Refrain from saying “Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Years” back to others. “Thank you” will suffice.
  10. I have the right to: Avoid holiday music during the months of October, November, and December. (I can choose to turn off the radio, or listen to my own recorded music)
  11. I have the right to: Stay out of malls and retails stores.
  12. I have the right to: Roll my eyes at, shred, and/or burn photocopied Christmas letters which tell all the annual good news of other people, their children, pets, and extended family.
  13. I have a right to: Change my mind in the middle of a social commitment and go home if I need to.
  14. I have the right to: Seek support
  15. I have the right to: Survive the holidays (and you will)

During the holidays, grievers often feel especially alone in the middle of a crowd. In fact, the griever can feel lonelier in a gathering than in the comfort of his or her own home. It’s not that the griever is generally a lonely person; it is that the griever is lonely for the particular person who has died.

Support to the griever can help ease some small measure of this great pain. Individual counseling, grief education classes, specialized support groups or workshops give the griever an opportunity to feel a little less crazy, and a little more “normal” in the process of mourning.

Tyra Goodman, MSW, LCSW, is a Bereavement Counselor and Clinical Social Worker at CarePartners. Contact her at 828-2774800, ext. 40456