The signs of the holiday season are ubiquitous: holiday decorations in the stores, piped in Christmas carols, holiday displays at the malls, TV programs focusing on selecting the perfect gift, holiday parties and gift exchanges at work. In many cases, this bustle of activity contrasts markedly with the emptiness and despair of grief.
Grief is healthy, and necessary. Grieving means we acknowledge the loss, but it doesn’t mean those of us left behind can stop living until it’s over. In fact, it can be viewed as a time to start new traditions, while honoring the old ones.
Dilemmas Associated with the Holiday Season
- The Requirement of Cheerfulness. There is an expectation during the holidays that people should be cheerful. One mourner explained that she hated going to holiday gatherings. “I could not be cheerful and I did not want to bring other people down by being sad.
- The Mine Field of Social Exchanges. On many occasions, the innocent remarks of others may put a knife through the mourner’s heart. Shortly after the death of their son, the parents attended a holiday dinner hosted by the boy’s grandparents. The host began the meal with a blessing, “Thank you for bringing the whole family together.” The father was so distressed by this remark that he left the table.
- The Complexity of Decisions. Bereaved individuals must navigate a difficult path in deciding how to handle decisions about family activities and rituals. As one mourner indicated, “I was not sure whether I should hang my son’s stocking or not. I decided to hang it, because after all he is my son. But my husband thought that this was not a good idea. He told me that I was ‘in denial.’
- The Ambush. During the holidays, mourners are often hit by powerful feelings that are evoked by some reminder of the loss. Consequently, they experience what Noel and Blair (2000) have called “the ambush.” As one mother explained, “I was taking out the Christmas ornaments and I came across an ornament that Timmy had made in kindergarten last year. It had his hand print on it. I dissolved into tears.” Although natural and normal, such experiences are often frightening in their intensity. There’s no “right” way to cope with such a loss.
Some choose to skip the holidays, which is difficult because we’re surrounded by holiday music, messages and events. Others try to celebrate just as if their lost loved one is still there, which can make the person’s absence even more painful. It’s important to know there are local, professional resources – right here in Northwest Michigan – that are capable of helping you during a painful time.
Even though you didn’t choose the circumstances that are leading you to grieve, you have a choice in how you respond to your grief. You can choose to be kind to yourself, take care of yourself, and take advantage of those resources. Hospice of Northwest Michigan’s “Handling the Holidays” workshop is one of these local, professional resources that take place the first part of every November. This workshop can provide tools and resources to get you through the holidays.
All grief support and bereavement programs for those dealing with painful losses of any kind are available year round and are free of charge and open to the community. For more information on our grief support and bereavement programs, please feel free to contact me directly at (231) 547-7659 or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are here for you in ways you never knew were available before.