It's hard to describe.
It's bad enough when someone dies, especially if they are young. But if their death is caused by something as random as a drunk driver, a freak accident, or a pandemic, it can feel unbearable.
When that death then occurs during the holiday season, all the jingling bells and "fa-la-la-la-las" are a crude backdrop for your pain. The stark emptiness of loss throbs through your veins. You can barely breathe. "How am I going to get through everyone talking about blessings and presents?" "I just want to shut my eyes and have it be January." Whatever scab that may have begun to form over the wound is ripped off. Memories of past holidays come flooding back. Realizations about relationships never to be healed or goodbyes not expressed can make that ache even more difficult.
Gut-wrenching sobs become the lonely connection with the one who will not be there for this holiday.
Or maybe for you, it's too painful to feel anything.
I've written about my own parents' deaths at Christmas in 2007: December 17, my mom; December 24, my dad. Going through the motions seemed paramount. After all, I had a 13-year-old who was excited about Christmas. My husband's parents and other friends were counting on me for Christmas dinner. All the food was bought, even some prepared.
I don't remember much except trying to give myself permission to be what I needed to be.
Grief Comes in Waves
Here are five hard-earned pieces of advice, either learned through personal experience or from watching others through the years.
- Especially if the death has been recent, allow others to help you as much as you can. You could still be in shock. It's the time for receiving from those who love you.
- Know that your grief will be unique to you. Don't feel that you must grieve the same way others do. Everyone's process will be different. Do the things that take care of you. That might be distraction. It might be diving into tasks. It might be journaling about your pain. Whatever helps.
- Understand that there are many facets of grief. and death: anger, denial, despondency, fear, guilt. All of these feelings are normal. The most important thing is not to become stuck in any one of them, because when you get stuck, anger can turn into bitterness, sadness can turn into reclusiveness, guilt can turn into shame, and those emotions can be extremely hard to heal after a pattern becomes entrenched.
- Grief comes in waves. Just when you think the tide is going out and you've survived another day, a rogue wave will hit you. You aren't going backward. That's the nature of grief. It rises and it falls, fades, and then pummels you with its force.
- Realize that most others are afraid their own lives might get out of control. So they'll back away after a short while. You'll find out who your true friends are. They'll be there, every day. And you'll never forget.
If you find that you are trapped in anger or deep sadness, please reach out. To a therapist. To a pastor. To a friend. You may want to die along with them at first, but that feeling can change. And you can find reasons for living, even though one will always be gone.
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