Holiday Grief

The holidays are supposed to be a time of festivities and joyful bliss. But the food, the get-togethers, the decorations, the presents, the family . . . can all be overwhelming when you’re dealing with the grief you feel since the loss of your loved one. When everyone around you seems to be looking forward with anticipation to their plans and shopping, you may start to feel more and more isolated and lonely. In fact, you may feel as if you can’t wait for it to all be over. The tears and pain you thought had lessened become stronger and more intense.

And what about those family gatherings? You dread the idea of facing all those people at once, and some of them for the first time since the funeral. They bring back this flood of emotions and they are a reminder that your loved one is no longer with you. How will you act and what will you say?

“There’s an elephant in the room. It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it. Yet we squeeze by with, ‘How are you?’ and, ‘I’m fine’. . . and a thousand other forms of trivial chatter. We talk about the weather. We talk about work. We talk about everything else – except the elephant in the room.”

“There’s an elephant in the room. We all know it is there. We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together. It is constantly on our minds. For, you see, it is a very big elephant. It has hurt us all. But we do not talk about the elephant in the room. Oh, please, say her name. Oh, please, say ‘Barbara’ again.”

“Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. For if we talk about her death, perhaps we can talk about her life? Can I say ‘Barbara’ to you and not have you look away? For if I cannot, then you are leaving me alone . . . in a room . . . with an elephant.” By Terry Kettering

So how do you plan to get through this awkwardness? Do you keep the traditions the same or do you do something different? Do you accept the invite to attend the gathering that includes your extended relatives or do you just plan to be with the ones to whom you feel closest? The idea of dealing with your family can bring undesired stress in itself. When this is coupled with the unique grief you feel, it can be difficult to know what to do.

There are various coping strategies you can try. First you should decide what you can deal with and what is most important to you. Be prepared to accept some invitations and decline others and recognize that it is okay to have limitations. Also it is important to take care of yourself and practice healthy habits, especially during the holidays. When it comes to your emotions, be easy on yourself. This is about permission. It’s okay that you cry, just as it’s okay that you have a good time.

Although everyone’s grief is unique, know that some of your family members share similar feelings. You can embrace the awkwardness of family gatherings and make them a time of healing. Telling stories about your loved one or looking through photo albums can help you honor and cherish how he/she impacted your life. This can also strengthen family bonds and build relationships among family members. In acknowledging your loss, you can move closer towards acceptance and provide the opportunity to help your family do the same.

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Jody Johnson, LICSW, LIMHP, began working at Wholeness Healing Center as a therapist in 2007. Jody graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with her Masters in Social Work.  She received her bachelor degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.


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