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Grief Around the Holidays

Grief Around the Holidays

by Miranda Feinberg, NNPDF Intern

Happy occasions and special events are meant to be shared with loved ones and those we hold dear. When we lose a loved one, though, such events become hard to bear. Loss makes the moments that once represented positivity and happy memories warped and ruined. It’s not only normal, but completely expected to grieve harder around special occasions. As Serina Heinze, a member of our NNPDF community, says in her blog post The Grief Who Stole Christmas, “[the holidays are] just like a magnifying glass on the reminder that someone they love is gone.”

One way that Serina focuses on the way grief affects holidays or special occasions is how yearly traditions become disrupted or hollowed. What once might have been enjoyed every year and associated with specific holidays no longer feels special. The tradition is no longer the same; something is missing, someone is gone. Traditions and routines are so ingrained in our everyday lives, so when some part of them is changed and disrupted, the tradition itself becomes troublesome and harmful to our everyday lives. Furthermore, the special-ness of holidays and the magic that is tied to them can conflate the importance of traditions in a way that makes the loss of such traditions even more distressing. Serina uses Christmas as an example of a special occasion with many long-held traditions that can be irrevocably affected by loss. She describes how, after loss, the winter snow transformed from exciting and magical to gloomy and cold, how putting up the Christmas tree became a chore, and how holiday parties became something to be avoided rather than attended.

The loss of a loved one is felt deeply at those times where there was once so much happiness. The loss of that person becomes tied to the loss of those traditions. The simultaneous feelings of grief and sadness mixed with the knowledge that everyone around you is still enjoying those once-special holidays can be very upsetting. Serina acknowledges all of these negative holiday transformations that are born of loss, but she also shares ways that she has begun to move forward. One suggestion she has is to make new traditions. Holding onto the past, resolutely unable to move forward, can immortalize the pain and prevent any healing that could happen during those holidays. Serina suggests using new traditions as a way to remember and move forward; as she says, “it won’t be the same and it never will be, but start a tradition that brings the memory of your loved one back to the holiday season.”

Moving forward is never about forgetting, but about creating something new. Serina suggests lighting a candle in honor of your loved one(s) or going around and sharing favorite memories about your lost loved one(s). Maybe you can make your loved one’s favorite meal or do something that they particularly liked. Creating some new tangible tradition is a good way to express the idea that even though your loved one is gone, the love you feel for them will always remain. It also helps to plan ahead and stay in control when you are approaching an event that you know will be painful. Remember that while it is important to allow yourself to feel and to grieve, it might be healthy to set boundaries for yourself and familiarize yourself with what is harmful and what is helpful to experience. If certain traditions are too painful to bear or certain events are too hard to attend, then don’t force yourself to experience them. Spend time with the people around you and focus on the positives wherever they are.