Grief During the Holidays

Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder and Creative Director of Unpolished Journey

grief-at-the-holidays

The holidays look different for those who are grieving. Whether that be from the loss of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, or a transition into a new life stage, the holidays are hard for those of us experiencing loss because the mind can’t help but remember how the holidays used to look when that person was still around.

My family lost my 16 year old cousin, Andy, in a car accident a year ago this December. I was very close to Andy and admired him for many reasons- his non judgemental attitude, his calm presence, his hard work ethic, etc. As you can imagine, his death was a shock. It rocked my entire family’s whole world. What do you mean Andy is gone when he was just here yesterday? How is life supposed to look like without him? How are we all supposed to continue on?

I don’t have answers to why tragedies happen or why relationships have to come to an end or why people drift apart. All I know is that heartbreak, sadness, anger, confusion, denial, all of the emotional responses that come as a result of a loss need to be honored- especially during the holiday season. It’s okay that the holidays look different for those of us who are grieving.

Yesterday, Chicago had its first snow. In years past whenever the first snow started to fall, I turned the entire day into a celebration. I would leave class, go home from work early, whatever it took to clear the day so that I could dance around outside, drinking hot chocolate, and listening to Christmas music. I am obsessed with the idea of snow. How each snowflake is unique, how it blankets the city making even the trash cans look beautiful, how it dances through the air, and gets caught on people eyelashes. It is magical and has always brought me an immense amount of joy. I have always said that snow was God’s way of letting me know He’s still listening.

This year the first snow was different.

I remember last year there were snow flurries on December 2nd, 2015. I remember being giddy about it as I walked to school that morning. I also remember nervously sliding on the sidewalk, frantically trying to get back to my apartment that night.

December 2nd, 2015 was the day Andy died.

Suddenly, the snow doesn’t feel magical, wonderful, or beautiful as it once did. So, as the first snow fell this year I stayed inside. I watched from my window through teary eyes while sipping on coffee instead of hot chocolate. I wanted it to go away. I wanted the beauty to go away, the wonder, the magic of Christmas. It didn’t feel right without Andy around.

At first I was mad at myself for not feeling happy. I was mad that I didn’t listen to Christmas music, dance through the streets, or celebrate the changing of the seasons, but the holidays look different now. The holidays must take into account the fact that I am grieving and that is okay. Grief is not a bad thing. I think that our society has a tendency to frown upon feeling sad, but the sadness is a positive thing. It is an indicator that something is missing. It shows that Andy’s presence mattered.

Grief during the holidays looks different for everyone. It might mean having to leave a Christmas party early because all the smiling faces were simply too overwhelming. It might mean laughing with family over memories of your loved one. It might mean setting a place at the table for the person missing to make sure their presence is still acknowledged. It might look like staying inside instead of dancing through the snow, crying instead of singing, ordering food instead of baking. Whatever it looks like, we must have grace for ourselves. It is not a bad thing to be sad during the holidays. Though, it might seem like everyone around you is filled with laughter and joy, there are others who are grieving.  And even so, your experience does not have to look like everyone else’s. We are each on unique journeys. Therefore, we can’t compare our journey to another.

In addition, it is also important for those who know someone grieving to be patient with them. Don’t pressure the person to go out or have fun or celebrate. Sometimes they need to be left alone. While other times they may need someone to be with them. Sometimes neither being with someone or alone will help, but simply letting the person know that you care may help ease the pain. Talk to the person who is grieving about their loss. Let them know that you are thinking of their loved one. You have no idea what a difference it makes to let them know that you haven’t forgotten their loved one, the loss, or their grief. Be thoughtful. Be empathetic. But most importantly, be patient.

Joy will come with time,

peace will come with time,

and grief does not have a time limit.

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