Updated: Nov 22, 2021
Actually they don't. Holidays are when we gather and at the very least we intend as much peace and gratitude and calm as we can manage. When someone has died though? Then holidays can suck. Perhaps it is a loved one's birthday close to the holIday, or the anniversary of diagnosis, or deathday or other memories that are hard to face. Perhaps it was your loved one's favorite holiday and without them there, the meaning and joy is missing along with our person. Maybe it's the 'first' series of holidays without them. It is hard!!
I know that at my first Thanksgiving without David, where all three of my sons (including Ben, his/my son) and friends gathered, I was a zombie. We all felt the loss profoundly but I was the one most physically and emotionally unstable. If anyone had told me to cheer up or look like I was having fun, I would likely have snapped.
You might find yourself crying, or angry or numb. You might not want to go To gatherings. Or perhaps the idea of the distraction of a holiday dinner might feel like just the ticket to momentary grief-relief.
All of that is normal. The pain of grief is sometimes so searing that we think there must be something wrong with us. Nothing takes it away, and because our culture likes to 'bright-side' anything perceived to be negative or dark, sad or potentially depressing around death, dying and grieving, those of us grieving can find ourselves standing in place where others want us to: "Get in the Holiday Spirit!", "Just embrace the meaning of the Season!", "Don't be sad. Wouldn't your (husband, mother, wife, father, daughter, son, brother...etc) want you to be happy?". It's hard. We can end up feeling and thinking that we can't trust other people with our feelings and thoughts. We become more isolated when that's where we land.
Now if you have been fortunate enough that you haven't experienced deep loss yet, or, if you have but are not someone who traffics in feelings, often it can be difficult to understand what a Griefling* is experiencing. Why after years is my friend still sad at Holidays? If I could cheer her up maybe I won't feel so helpless. Etc...
Notice how quickly the urge to fix arises. Notice that the desire to cheer up the other person feels like the right thing to do. Notice that when someone else is sad, how easy it is to feel helpless and perhaps feel the fear that it might be you having to face life without a person who you love and cherish. Notice the thoughts and feelings that arise in you. Now move forward by asking the Griefling what they need to make it through the Holidays. Ask them if you can share a memory of their person. Make the invite easier. "I know that the Holidays can be hard. Would you like to come share dinner with us?" The phone call to check in "Hey, I know that Holidays sucks without David. What are your plans for Christmas? Can I drop off some cookies for you?"
You get the idea. Questions are easier to manage for the grieving than statements. Those questions are invitations and involve them directly rather than telling them how they should or should not feel or be. Be kind to your grieving person AND be kind to yourself. Consider how it might feel if you were on the other side of that situation. Let them lead the way when you aren't sure what to do.
Whichever side of the grief club doors you are on can be especially challenging when those Holidays roll around.
Here‘s to the Holidays! May there be as much peace and joy and calm and gratitude as you can manage… Even if they do suck sometimes.
*Griefling is a term coined by a fellow griever and I think it works well.