For those of us grieving during the holiday, trying to exist comfortably for ourselves while working towards healing and wholeness is intense. And it is only intensified by trying to exist comfortably for our loved ones too. So many times, people want those who are grieving to move on or away from the pain during this season in exchange for unbridled joy. Doing so however, at the risk of being disingenuous and possibly regretting how the holiday was acknowledged, will only bring more heartache.
The stages of grief make each person’s view of and visible presence during the holiday season different. Some people may on the surface seem to have all the holiday holly and spirit one can muster. Others might find themselves sitting beneath a black cloud trying not to be overcome by the pain. And then there are those who will cheerfully sing “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” on stage at random open mic’s as a metaphor for the person they’re truly missing. (Yes, that’s been me this Christmas.)
Below are statements from people who have experienced grief during the holiday. For some, they have 10 plus years of experience. For others, this is year 1. I want you to read their responses and understand how you can show love to those feeling grieved this season. This is the question that was asked:
What do you want people to know in regards to loving you during the holidays?
“… I’m ok with not being ok. [The way I choose to honor my loved one] everyone acted as if I had done something horrible or freakishly weird. This year I plan to do the same but am in a position where I don’t feel I can share that openly anymore. Is it sad? Of course. But I’m ok with that.”
“This is so hard to answer. Especially since this is the first year I’ve allowed myself to fall apart… I am 100% a hot mess. I am sad, angry, jealous, bitter, reminiscent, fragile, fearful, and tired. Let me take naps, let me cry. Let me eat really weird food and don’t judge me for bailing on any and all social plans, because that will definitely be happening. This sadness creeps into my bones like frost bite, and the only cure is crying while wrapped in a heavy blanket on my couch hiding from the world.”
“Don’t forget my daughter. Remember her. Say her name. Don’t just ignore the fact that she isn’t here.”
“… I want others to give me permission to grieve a bit and not brush it off. I don’t need to make it known out loud, but I do need to know others understand it’s still hard for me even years later. My heart still cannot forget ….”
“The best way to love me is by acknowledging my strength, not my direct history. The “I’m sorry that happened” is greatly appreciated and a lovely gesture, but I need to be built up, not sorry for.”
“I want people to know that we (those grieving) all know that one day it’ll be “okay” ,.. (okay as in it’ll be easier to handle not necessarily minimizing the pain as it’ll never FULLY be ok), but it may not be today, this next holiday, or the next….. the best way to love me right now is to be patient and let me come to you when I’m ready,.. don’t force group interactions nor make me the obvious topic of discussion or spotlight… be gentle, cautious, and patient…”
” Talking about all your gifts to me is hurtful. Not because you get gifts and I don’t, but because you never seem to talk about how grateful you are for the people that gave them. “
” I want people to know they can still be happy around me… They don’t have to bring it up and ask if I’m okay. I’m not but we don’t need to focus on that on a day that’s supposed to be fun with the family. Truly them being there… being happy is what I want on that day. Just be there.”
“… the holidays are not a happy time for me, so expecting me to be cheerful or “merry” does more harm than good. People should be understand that being away from family on top of having grief is difficult, and not something one can just snap out of. “
“Just that if I’m not 100% committed to feeling the joy of the season its not bc I’m unhappy with them or upset I didn’t get something i wanted….its bc a piece of myself is missing and always will be. This feeling is just amplified during the holidays esp when we are basically sitting around praising the birth of a certain baby. And mine aren’t here.”
“Another thing people need to realize is that “Call me if you need anything” is easier said than done. Instead, maybe offer to do something in particular or ask what specifically you can do to help.”
“I am desperate for those warm family feelings. For laughter and light and kindness.. I think that when it comes to this situation, you want to be heard and wrapped in love. It’s very hard to not have that.”
“… The holidays [aren’t] any worse for me and my grief process than any other given day. I️ honestly just want people to continue to say his name, and not just during “special” times. He was and still is a part of our family and therefore a part of our every day dialogue. I guess I wish people understood and nurtured that.”
“Don’t be afraid to call/visit/ask questions. So many people fear saying the “wrong thing” but silence is far worse.”
“The holidays don’t lighten the grief process, in fact it can make it worse. For the first few years it is important to honor the grieving person. Simply asking them what they would like to do/ not do over the holidays can help as every person and every grieving process is different. Also consider how you can join your loved one by honoring the person who has passed.”
“ I want people to just be there for me and realize things take time. We’re all going through something. Grief just takes a longer time to overcome. Sharing special memories, stories, laughter, and good food is important.”
The statements above are from people who simply need their families and friends to be present; to not ignore the elephant in the room, to not try to force their processes of dealing on us, to be honest when saying “I don’t know what to do for you but I am available.”
For me, with all the family I have, I still feel a little sad and lonely around the holidays. It’s just not the same and the what if’s are abundant. However, it would be easier to cope with just a little effort from loved one’s. We still buy our babies gifts, we say our loved ones names out loud just to feel the sound of it in our mouths, we squint and remember every detail of the people we held dear. We want you to know that your love makes the difference. So please don’t neglect us or even treat us like nothing happened. Just love us on purpose.
– Paula Michelle