What is Holiday Grief?


Dear Floyd:

When I was over for coffee yesterday, I noticed a note you had made to yourself, “Write an article about Holiday Grief, for the site.”  I hope you don’t mind, but I have enclosed some of my personal thoughts about the Holidays.  Christmas brings back many memories of people and places that I have lost. 

In these days of Jingle bells and holiday cheer, it is easy to forget that for some, the holidays are not a happy time.  Indeed, for some, they are a time of sadness and a time for a feeling of loss.  Many are mourning the loss of a dear family member or friend, the loss of a beloved pet, a job, a home or the loss of a sense of well-being.  Feelings that have been long forgotten come to the forefront and once again you need to deal with thoughts and emotions that are painful—the empty space at the table, the person not there at tree trimming or cookie baking time, the person no longer on your Christmas card list or social calendar.  All of these can cause an overwhelming sense of loss and emptiness. 

All these feelings, like all feelings, have validity.  They should not be discounted; they need to be acknowledged; and they need to be accepted.  Only by accepting feelings can one work through them properly.  Sometimes that means giving oneself permission to mourn and feel sad for a time, perhaps even to allow some self-pity.  Sometimes it is helpful to set a time limit for the mourning/sadness.  Sometimes it is helpful to pamper or indulge yourself for a time.  Sometimes you need some alone time to process your feelings.  Each of us mourns in our own way and on our own timetable. 

Review your needs and set a reasonable timetable for meeting them.  It is imperative to not allow yourself to wallow in self-pity indefinitely.  Mourning is necessary but should not be allowed to take over your life.  If that happens, you may need to consult a professional to help you cope.  

It is often helpful to replace lost traditions with new ones.  In each community there are multiple options for service to others, particularly at the holidays.  Investigate serving a meal at a homeless shelter, collect and/or purchase a gift or gifts for a charity such as Toys for Tots, or a Women’s shelter or families in need.  Contact local agencies, Boy’s or Girl’s clubs for kids in need and/or volunteering through a local Church or Synagogue.

Hopefully, in time, you will be able to feel a sense of gratitude for having had the lost person or item in your live for a time.  And, you will be able to embrace the idea of “Don’t weep because our time together is over, smile because it happened.”

Signed, Anonymous    (The writer is unsure of herself as a writer and asked not to be identified.  But I greatly appreciate a friend like this, who make my work so much easier.)



Webmasters comment:  From a professional view, I would like to add that grief is not a mental illness.  It is a normal and natural feeling.

When our friends are grieving, we often are at a lost as to the best thing to do.  And so, we make what we hope are helpful and consoling comments: “Time heals all wounds.”   Or, “I can understand, I was terribly upset when my dog, Spot, died.”

What the grieving person needs is validation of their feelings.  Simply taking the time to listen is helpful.

Another person’s extreme feelings can sometimes be difficult to sympathize with—if they seem to be out of proportion to the situation.   But invalidating your loved one’s response probably doesn’t help and may hurt and add to the bad feelings—this time, being misunderstood, and more alone.

Invalidating another’s emotions:  Is to, 1. Ignore (talk away without listening, turn on the T.V.)  2. Reject (“Oh, you shouldn’t be worrying about a little thing like that.”  Then you change the subject.)  3. Belittle (“So it’s ‘poor little me’,” or “There’s a lot of fish in the sea. You’ll find someone else just as good;” or 4. Judge (“Well, It’s stupid to be upset about that!  That’s really dumb.”)   

Common: “I know how you feel.”  (No, you don’t)  
Better to say, “I am so sorry, I can’t imagine how you feel.  I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”

To validate another’s feelings means... 1. You should not tell them how to feel.  Instead, YOU take the time to listen about, ask questions if needed, and understand what the person is feeling, 2. At least try, to understand the depth of the feelings, and 3.  You can express by words, facial expression, tone voice (touches and hugs if appropriate) and words... 4. Your acceptance of the other’s emotional experience.

Sometimes it helps if you can assist the person to identify what they are feeling: (i.e.) an overwhelming sense of loss, depression, anxiety, helplessness, unloved, isolated, alone, fearful, even paranoid.   And if you listen to what the person is actually thinking, any and all of these feelings may seem reasonable.

December—Christmas Holidays: For one family it’s the time their daughter-in-law is in the hospital intensive care about to die after several years with ALS.  For another mother it is remembering her son—not as he died with AIDS—but as he was as a five year old, opening his Christmas presents.  Over the years the hurt may have subsided, but the sweet sorrow remains.

So, Merry Christmas, and may you all be merry.  But please be mindful that we are the lucky ones, and be understanding for all those who are having difficulties with the season.

Bests wishes,

Floyd Else, webmaster, retired Licensed Mental Health Counselor


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