Holiday Grief Avalanche

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*This post includes more self-disclosure than I would usually use, but I thought I would share my genuine experience because vulnerability allows people to make real connections with others.

The holidays are not always jolly and great. Crying my eyes out during Thanksgiving this year, I had a sad epiphany. When you lose someone you love, you don’t just lose them when they die. You lose them OVER and OVER throughout your life.

I lost my mother and brother when I was a teenager, and I thought I had reached a point of sustained maintenance. I stopped thinking about my their deaths daily, and I continued putting one foot in front of the other in order to function. And I functioned very well! I grew from a wounded teenager to a well-adjusted adult. But I have noticed something: with every birthday, holiday, or death anniversary, grief creeps back in.

Yes, the initial death of a loved one brings an avalanche of overwhelming sadness but each milestone reached without your loved one is a unique loss. I not only lost my mother when I was 16, but I grieved again when she was not there for graduations, my wedding, the birth of my child, or days when I needed her advice. I missed my brother’s milestone birthdays and seeing him become an adult. This Thanksgiving fell on his birthday.

What can you possibly do to soothe the pain when your person is not coming back? For those of you who have had grief before you know there’s not much to be done. But I have compiled a few ways to address grief that may be helpful for others:

  • Start a grief journal titled “Letters to _____ ” to write messages to your loved one on tough grief days.
  • Talk about it! Don’t stop talking about your person. Grief is a deep internal wound and it helps to externalize the feelings, sharing memories with someone else.
  • Go to therapy! Therapy works. Whether you choose individual therapy or a support group, find a way to talk to someone.
  • Volunteer. A few years in a row I volunteered at a camp run by a hospice organization for kids who have lost someone. Each volunteer was matched with one child to mentor them throughout the therapeutic activities for the weekend. Many hospice organizations have similar opportunities, and it can be therapeutic to help someone.
  • Create NEW traditions – While old traditions can be painful, new traditions can provide some relief. Go ahead and buy those matching pajamas for the whole family or host your holiday at a vacation resort.

If you’re reading this and you can relate, comment with your tips for dealing with grief during the holidays and year-round. I hope that you can enjoy the moments of peace and joy in your life, and cherish the positive things.