Celebrating the Holidays while grieving is a difficult paradox. It is a time of spiritual and social renewal when families come together to celebrate religious and family traditions, but it also can be a time of great pain for the grieving who have recently lost a loved one.
The contradiction of joy and grief in one time and space is confusing to the bereaved and can lead to a myriad of raw emotions. Emotions of regret, guilt, anger, and intense sadness. Memories of past holidays and the love and good times shared are very present and raw in the emotional heart. These memories resurface for even grievers years after, but are far more present and graphic for recent grievers.
This can lead grievers during the Holidays to avoid celebration or even withdraw from family life for the season. This is not necessarily a bad thing for a person who has lost a loved one recently. This is especially true if the lost is within the calendar year and this is the first Holiday season without the deceased.
It is important to allow the individual to express his or her grief in solace and silence if necessary. It is important to give the griever the space one needs to deal with the lost in one’s own way. It would be unwise to force traditions or gatherings upon this individual.
Likewise, if a griever chooses to be around family and friends and wishes to celebrate, it is wise to gently accommodate the needs of the person with sensitivity and kindness. Ultimately, the griever must choose the path that is best for the griever. Nothing should be forced, refused or restricted.
The biggest thing one can do for the griever during the Holidays is to check on them and be there to listen. Listening is the greatest gift and simply checking in. Whether that is through a call, or by leaving a cookie trey, or a simple card. These small gestures carry weight and can help the griever through these difficult times. Avoidance is the worst thing anyone can do for the griever. A balance and discretion are required to know how much to say or how much to do.
One cannot know the first Holiday season if the griever is naturally experiencing grief in its raw form or pathologically and this is why checking in and listening is so critical in helping the bereaved. In time, the secluded bereaved may become more present during the Holidays. They may seek other family and friends and wish to again immerse themselves in traditions, dinners and gift exchange. Or, they may seek to find new traditions, or even wish to commemorate the deceased.
These are healthy advances in any direction. They show a respect for the past, a continuation in the presence and hope for the future. Old traditions may end or they may not, or new traditions will emerge after the death of the deceased, but ultimately, individuals who lose a loved one learn how to incorporate the loss of a loved one into the current and future Holidays. No story is the same and not outcome is right or wrong. The way Holidays are celebrated after the loss of a loved one are never the same afterwards emotionally but that does not mean they do not continue into new ways.
Losing a loved one is traumatic any day of the year. Whether it is during the Holidays or before, there will be emotional grief reactions. These reactions will always exist no matter the year, but they become less intense each year. This is not to say the pain is erased and the love vanishes, it just means that people adjust and adapt to loss and learn how to cope with it, even during the Holidays.
If you would like to learn more about the process of grief, please review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Training Program. Qualified professionals can apply and become certified in Grief Counseling.