The Holiday Blues



Deep in December...

I was beginning to do better, I thought I was doing better, but a few days ago,
the holidays just hit me.

A widow, contemplating her first Christmas alone
Quote from Healing After Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman

The holiday season is upon us but for many the month of December brings deep grief. We weep with the "quiet sense of something lost" as we recall happier times. The whole world seems poised for celebration while holiday memories flood us and make grief feel fresh again.

Each of us has a list of time-honored traditions, from hanging the stockings or lighting the candles, to baking holiday treats and attending sacred services. They are part of who we are and how we share our happiness with the people we love. Now one of the people we love is gone.

December may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it can also be the most painful. There is a profound difference between the external trappings of the season and the way we feel inside. What once delighted us now feels empty and we cringe at all the hoopla. Doesn't anyone know how much we hurt? The gaiety surrounds us and accentuates our feelings of loss.

Retail stores assault our senses with an endless overhead discord of saccharine songs. Every time I hear Silver Bells I want to break somebody's CD. Or, the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the season fill us with longing of times past and the one who has died. During the first Christmas season after my mother died, I walked into a bakery in late December and it smelled like the sugar cookies Mom used to make. The aroma flooded me with grief anew. I walked out without buying anything.

The season brings its own brand of anguish if the holiday memories of our loved one are polluted with drunkenness, fighting, or other forms of dysfunction. Now that our loved one is gone, we know that there is no chance to create happier holiday memories with them. This powerlessness to create new memories with the one for whom we grieve intensifies the loss: it never was, and now, it never will be.

Another difficult period arises when enough time has passed after the death that the grief is in the background, but we have not yet reconciled
ourselves (adjusted) to life without our loved one. The dull ache of absence envelops us like fog even as we try so hard to be cheerful.

Sometimes we feel free to talk about our grief with friends or family, and if our grief is brand new, we will want to talk about it. Sometimes we feel so alone in our suffering that we want to scream.

In some families, sorrow is regarded as a contagious and undesirable condition. It is expected that we be active and in good spirits during the month of December. This often leads to our becoming more sad, or angry
, because we cannot pretend to be cheerful. Even though the calendar dictates it, we do not feel jolly.

According to grief counselor and author Alan Wolfelt
, the holiday season complicates grief and heightens pain. He offers the following suggestions to help grievers get through the holiday season: (From the foreword of A Decembered Grief, page 9.)

1. Talk about your grief.

2. Be tolerant of your physical and psychological limits.

3. Eliminate unnecessary stress.

4. Be with supportive, comforting people. I was most comforted when I spent time with the few (rare) people in my life who knew how to listen. They allowed me to talk about my grief, or cry, without trying to cheer me up or change the subject. Cheerleaders annoyed me.

5. Talk about the person who has died.

6. Do what is right for you.

7. Plan ahead for family gatherings.

8. Embrace your treasure of memories.

9. Ask for help if you need it.

10. Express your faith.

The holiday blues
 are a normal part of grief. Unspoken gloom hovers over all attempts to celebrate. When this happens, it is best for us to stop, embrace those around us that we trust and hold dear and acknowledge the grief.

Responding to tragedy and loss with sorrow is evidence of our humanity. Grief is an expression of our love for the dear one who has died and it deserves as much respect as joy and happiness. By expressing our sadness, our love, we have a chance at finding new and unexpected tenderness in the season of hope.

Note: Men and women do not express the powerful emotions of grief the same way. I once read that when it comes to grief, "women cry and men sigh." In other words, grieving women cry more and want to talk about the deceased loved one while grieving men become quiet, or angry, and busy themselves with projects.

It is important to avoid stereotypes, however. Of course some men shed tears and some women cope with a flurry of activity. There is no right and wrong way for men and women to grieve.
Visit Tom Golden's Crisis, Grief and Healing or Alan Wolfelt's article about men and grief to learn more. Helpful for men and the people who love them. 

Go to next page: A Grueling Triathlon


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How complicated and individual mending is,
the time required for healing
cannot be measured against any fixed calendar
Mary Jane Moffat
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