The Holidays Will Be Hard

November 7, 2022


No question. The holidays can/will always be different after the loss of someone important in your life. I have heard many times, “we just have to get through the holidays”, “they need to survive the holidays”, “please let me get through the holidays” and various iterations thereof. What is not stated and what might be implied is the absence of, “then they will be fine”, “then I’ll be alright” and thoughts to the like. These might be wishes, fantasies, hopes, distortions or any combination of the above.


Why wouldn’t the holidays be hard? Holidays are glamorized as times of joy, happiness and good times with loved family and friends – which they can be. But what about when there is an empty chair at the table? Of course, a loss is amplified at such times. However, there can be (at least for the first few holidays post loss) overcompensations by people who try and take the “sting” away. We know overcompensation is impermanent. Sometimes the impermanence is triggered by “she seems fine”, “I asked him, and he said he was good”.


Let’s go back to the “get through the holidays and you’ll be ok belief”. One of the things we know about dates on the calendar such as holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries is we can anticipate their arrival and pre-grieve. Once the day or event has past there is post-grieving. This process, for example, is very parallel to receiving a terminal diagnosis. We can anticipate the loss and start to grieve it before it’s occurrence and then on the day of the funeral people have reported “it wasn’t as bad as I thought”. This might be related to the idea that they have been grieving for months already. Once the ceremonies have concluded and people have left the griever is then left alone with the reality of this starts my life without the person and grieving after the loss occurs.


Holidays follow a similar trajectory. Grievers and grief supporters want to get through the holidays but the work to get through them may be happening months or weeks in advance and continuing after the date. While supporters may feel it’s “too early” to ask or “I’m relieved they’re over for them” those are the times to keep our foot on the gas of support rather than the brake. Whatever we decide the truth is, the opposite might also be true.