What's So Happy About the Holidays?

If someone you love has died, you may be surprised at how you feel about upcoming holidays or special days. Observances that used to be fun-filled may be overshadowed by anxiety, apprehension and sadness. Sherry Williams White uses her years of experience in working with grieving individuals to explain why grief seems more intense during the hoilidays and what you can do to have more control of the season. She shares ideas for including the memory of your loved one in holiday celebrations by creating new rituals and traditions for the future.

by Sherry Williams White

Even though holidays and special days are usually joyous celebrations filled with rituals, traditions and love, these special days can be surprisingly painful for those whose family has been touched by death. Instead of lifting our heads and hearts with memories that we carry for a lifetime, these days remind us of just how long it has been since we hugged the person who died, since we shared a laugh, since we ate a holiday meal together.

If someone you love has died, you may be surprised at how you feel about upcoming holidays or special days. Observances that used to be fun-filled may be overshadowed by anxiety, apprehension and sadness. Once again, you are faced with the reality that your family photo is forever changed. You may not feel up to creating new memories, so you decided instead to just hang onto the old ones as your past and your present collide. This can send you on a downward spiral of despair, isolation, and hopelessness. Do you feel agitated or out of control? Even though it may not seem like it to you, it is normal for you to feel this way as special days and holidays approach. Facing these days can be one of the most challenging and difficult experiences you have to endure.

Why? One reason is the onslaught of messages you receive about the upcoming special day. The calendar, retail stores, television, radio, newspapers and even your own family remind you that time must move forward.  Just just when you want the clock to stop;here comes Easter, the 4th of July, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, a special birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s no matter what you do. You can waste a lot of time and precious energy trying to ignore holidays or other special days, or you can use that energy to find new ways to celebrate.

Maybe things are changing so quickly that you can’t even find time to carry out your favorite traditions. As if this weren’t frustrating enough, did you know that your grief can distort the traditions that you are able to hang onto? Suddenly, all the Hanukkahs, or birthdays you shared with your loved one who has died were perfect. How could this year’s celebration ever live up to those?

All of these things make it more important than ever that you keep some rituals and traditions in your life. They give you structure and a sense of control. They give you a glimpse of meaning and an affirmation of belonging. They anchor you to your past and give you stable footing for your future. But you want to embrace these rituals and traditions in a realistic way that serves to heal you, not merely trap you with a long list of things to do.

Helen Keller wrote that “the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor touched, but are felt in the heart.” Holidays and special days touch our hearts. And now, because of the death of your loved one, this holiday or special day will touch your heart in a different way. Some things you will be facing alone, or with one less person in your circle. Some things you will do for the first time, and you may be frightened. Don’t let your fear keep you from celebrating. Instead, acknowledge and embrace your grief and all the pain and fear that come with it. It is real and it is a part of who you are.

Above all, remember that you are grieving because you have loved. There’s not a person I know who would give up the pain of their loss if it meant giving up the joy of having received love and companionship from the person who has died. Another reason special days can be tough is that the fast pace of life makes it difficult for you to hang onto valuable rituals and traditions.

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