Why are the Holidays so Hard?

We are supposed to have warm fuzzy feelings during the holidays, but sometimes we are instead filled with dread. There are few universal “right” or “wrong” answers for the holidays as we grieve. However, there is one answer that I think is very nearly universal… “No, you are not going crazy, you are grieving.” My hope in writing this is that you may find that though your holidays are different, they are survivable and to some degree, meaningful.

Please don’t decide now that the holidays are going to be horrendous. Usually the dread of an event is worse than the event itself. Few holidays are as picture perfect as they are portrayed in movies or on TV. All of us have memories of holidays that didn’t turn out as well as we wanted, and some that turned out better than we could have imagined.

We want to enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, birthdays, and anniversaries. But as we grieve, holidays and special occasions may trigger that deep sadness that we felt at the funeral home. Anniversaries of birth, marriage, death and other significant times seem to hit with a vengeance. It sometimes goes beyond missing our loved one and wishing they were here. Sometimes it comes like a wave from the depths of the ocean and threatens to overwhelm us.

Holidays have always cheered us up as we anticipate being with those we love, and others might think that is exactly what you need as you grieve…to be cheered up. They don’t understand that the holidays themselves tend to create extra burdens and added sorrows. The extra burdens can be planning for gifts with half (or less) income, deciding whether to attend the event that you know will trigger feelings that are just beginning come under control. The added sorrows can be the sadness of “wishing you were here” to a loved one who will never be here again.

Traditions are important to us. Sometimes traditions seem to become set in stone. Then the stonemason dies. Who carries on the traditions? Do we really need to put up the stockings? Are we doing a disservice to a child’s (or a Dad’s or a Mom’s) memory if we don’t? And what do we do with his/her stocking?

The family might not understand, but sometimes some traditions need to change or at least be put on hold for a time. These traditions might have become almost sacred within the family, and even in the individual. How do you decide what to do about the traditions?

A good rule of thumb is, “If It Hurts Too Much, Don’t Do It.” If it is so painful that you cannot think about it without reacting, then leave it alone for a time. Be gentle to yourself and remember, if you are not up to it this year, next year might be different. Don’t force yourself. You will know when the time is right.

Some choose to establish other traditions around the memory of a loved one. One family started lighting a candle each Christmas in memory of an infant that died on Christmas day. One family buys “Forget-Me-Not” flower seeds to spread in every un-mow-able corner of the cemetery around Easter in memory of a loved one who passed away on Easter. I would love to see that cemetery on Memorial Day! Another family plants a tree every year in memory of a loved one. It’s okay to let some traditions go, and it’s okay to start some new ones of your own.

Who decides? In the preparations for the holidays, does your grief give you the right to make these decisions? Yes, and No. You have my permission to decide what You can or can’t do (as if you actually need my permission)! Where others, especially children, are concerned, please try to not rain on their parade! Why not ask for a family meeting? Hopefully the atmosphere can be cleared and with all the elephants out of the room you can decide as a family how to handle a very difficult season. A good way to avoid a misunderstanding is to have an understanding.