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Grief For The Holidays

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

Written by Radonda Rowton, MAC, LPC

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Your tree is up and decorated. The stockings are hung over the fireplace, and your home is twinkling with Christmas magic. Holiday music fills the air, and everywhere you go people are spreading holiday cheer. This is ordinarily a joyous time of year meant for parties and celebrations with friends and family. There is an unwritten expectation of being jolly and full of holiday spirit. But for many who will be facing their first Christmas without a loved one, this season can also bring tremendous grief.

Grieving a loved one often comes up in a lot of my conversations during the holidays. I’ve heard people say:

· I feel completely numb to the joys of the season

· I’m simply going through the motions for my kids

· I feel like I’m about to experience the worst Christmas of my life.

· Although it’s been months, I still feel like I’m in a state of shock

I get it. I remember. I’ve been there. Back in 2004, I lost my dad in the month of June to a massive heart attack. He passed away on my wedding anniversary. My dad was larger than life. He was most often the loudest, most joyful person in the room at family gatherings, especially during the holidays. The idea of having his family around him was the thing that made him the happiest. And as I thought about ringing in the new year, the only thing I could think was that the coming year would be the year of holidays that would not include my dad. Our lives had forever been changed, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

For me, it came in waves. To my dismay, I realized that during those waves, my inner grief would take over my every thought. It was like living in a clouded haze of despair. Every potential joy was trumped by the fact that my dad was not there to experience it too. And as I was struggling internally with my overwhelming grief, everything going on around me seemed to take on new meaning. I remember feeling the need to manage my feelings, after all, my husband was a music director at a church and for us, Christmas was a huge, joyful celebration and it was our job to produce that feeling for thousands of people. I didn’t feel joyful and I didn’t feel like celebrating. I heard stories from those who felt the need to share with me their stories of loss. I listened to well-intentioned people tell me how that they understood exactly what I was going through. I was grateful for the sentiment, because I knew they meant well, but they had no idea how much that I didn’t want to be standing there listening to their respective stories. I just wanted to be by myself...anywhere in the world but where I was right at that minute. Because you see, the thing about grief is that it is often very personal and a little selfish. In my head, I knew these well-meaning people were dealing with their grief as well, but my heart felt it could not possibly match what I was feeling. Besides, they didn’t have to work on Christmas.

Because my immediate family also worked for a church, we made it a point to at least try to get together for Christmas, usually arriving on Christmas day or the day after. I honestly don’t remember much about our gathering that year. Without my dad, everything just seemed so much quieter. It felt as if we were merely pretending to celebrate Christmas, mostly for the children. The joyful, festive atmosphere was not as palpable as the exhaustion that I felt. I think each one of us was in our own private echo chamber of grief, because even within the same family, every person experiences their grief differently.

I remember talking to a friend, who had just lost her mom to Alzheimer’s between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. This story is being shared with permission. Her experience was somewhat of a mood enhanc