Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

I know it is hard.  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it.  I didn’t ask for this to be my life.

I know that every year I seem to need something different.  I know that’s confusing and may be frustrating.  But I’m working this out as I go.  I didn’t get a “how to” manual when I buried my son.  It’s new for me every year too.

So I’m trying to make it easier on all of us.  

I’m trying to be brave and think ahead and offer up what I can to help you understand.

I’m not asking you to stuff your feelings.  But I am asking you to weigh your disappointment in things being different against my unfathomable sorrow in burying my child.

And this is what I need from YOU:

Acknowledge my loss.  It doesn’t matter if it has been a few months, a few years or even decades-every single time the whole family gets together, the hole where my child SHOULD be is highlighted.  Other people may have moved on, and I am stronger now than I was, but the missing is as hard today as it was the day he left.  I need you to acknowledge that even if you don’t understand it.

Be flexible.  Every day is different for me.  And even if we did a certain thing last year, it may not be something I want to repeat.  Life circumstances continue to evolve-living children grow and marry, grandchildren make their appearance, health issues may emerge and change physical capabilities-life keeps on regardless of loss.  So this year is DIFFERENT than last year.  For everyone.  If we all embrace flexibility, there’s less opportunity for breakage.  Rubber bounces.  Glass shatters.  I don’t want my loss to be the central focus, but it’s a huge part of my experience and I can’t ignore it.  Help me, please.

Give me space.  Grant space in the larger picture-don’t make showing up to every family event a “mandatory option”.  Understand that even with planning and the best intentions, I may wake up and realize that I. just. can’t. do. it.  Or I may come, but leave early.  And grant space in the details-if I walk out of a room, let me go.  It may be helpful for one person to check on me after a few minutes but don’t send the calvary to drag me back.  I don’t always want to detract from a gathering and I may need to cry, or gather myself, or just sit silently remembering my son.

Give me time.  Time by itself does not heal anything.  But time is a critical component of healing.  If this is the first holiday season after loss, don’t pressure me with artificial deadlines about what I want to do or whether or not I’m going to participate in this or that. And even if it’s not the first season, I still need time.  It will be the third set of holidays after my son’s departure and I’m still feeling my way in the dark.  Don’t force me to decide if I can’t.  Just go on with your plans.  If I can join in, I will.  If I can’t, then I won’t.  That’s the best I can do.  It’s how I have to live every single day right now.

Grant mercy.  I will mess up.  I will say things in the passion of loss that I regret.  Overlook it.  Don’t lash out or hit back.  My emotional tank is so empty sometimes that it’s a wonder I can still feel anything.  I am truly trying. Grant mercy.

Extend grace.  Grace is lavishing love on the unlovely. Forgiving when someone doesn’t ask for it.  Doing something for someone and not expecting anything in return.  Step up and step out in faith that loving me will help me heal.  Even when you can’t see that it makes a difference. Don’t stop.  Don’t withdraw.

Know that this is not what I would have chosen.

Child loss happened TO me.

It is out of my control.

And the calendar pages keep turning.  Every holiday season means another year gone without the companionship of the child I miss.

I want to continue to embrace life, to enjoy my loved ones, to make new memories.  But I need your help to make it happen.

Don’t abandon me now.

compassion is a choice

Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

26 thoughts on “Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family”

  1. My heart aches as I read this as I lost my only brother to cancer in august. A shock as we found out 3 wks before he ďied. He started being weak went to er. Was found then. Oh, how I miss him. We talked every day. He had very many friends. I love hearing his friend says I miss him too.

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  2. I am coming up on Christmas #2 without my Patrick. He died the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year, I don’t even remember last Christmas, I know I spent it at my daughter’s house with the grandkids to keep me busy and I did 90% of the cooking, to keep me busy and I know when I got home I felt empty and sad. This year of “firsts” has been tough and year two doesn’t seem to be shaping up as any better but I will put on my “I’m okay” mask and get through the day, just like I do every day. I wish everyone peace during this difficult time of the year 💙☘💛⚾

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  3. I’ve read this and shared with my family already. I’m bookmarking now because I will share it as often as I can to get the message across…this loss is life altering and devastating and I need their support and encouragement, not their judgment.

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    1. Katy, I find that when we share with our loved ones, they often are thankful for the insight. Grace all the way around is the best way to maintain relationship. I try hard to extend it as well as ask for it. I pray that you feel the Father’s love close this season and that He gives you the strength you need to make it through.

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  4. The time warp of loss is always there; seems Amanda passed forever ago but also only seconds ago, but ten months ago in reality. Our first Christmas without her. We’ve done everything as usual, seems the easiest way for us. We do it in honor of her. The one change we’ve made is not include my family and to look into the future family. That is celebrating with my daughter’s boyfriend family. My family is selfish. Too much for us to bother. Thank you for sharing your own experiences as I look forward to reading them everyday. Roger

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  5. I lost my son November 1, 2016. I keep wondering about how I will handle the holidays this year. I, too, have 4 children. Reading this I realized I have many more years of figuring this out. That seems impossible.

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    1. I am so very sorry for your pain and loss. Please be very gentle with yourself and immediate family this year. You are very fresh in your grief. I will say this: some families find a holiday “groove” early on and it works for them. Yours might be one of them. Some of us experience child loss on the cusp of many other changes in life and it continues to keep us off-balance for holidays for a long time. Praying that the Lord will give you strength for each day and that you will feel His Presence near you.

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    2. Pam…….do as U plz !!!!!!! CANNOT stress this enough. Don’t mean to b rude but u just do what u need to rite now n don’t worry about what everyone thinks. It 5 years now for the loss of my only child who was killed at 8yo. My plans this Thanksgiving ? To b left alone ! I keep hearing oh that’s not healthy n being with ppl will preoccupy u from the pain n yada yada yada. I KNOW if I’m around family I WILL break n I refuse to bring others down not to mention being forced to listen to all the “advice” that NONE of them understand. U go b with family. U go off n b alone. U stay home n drink. U go out of town. U just do what U need n thank G-D that He doesn’t force us to “get over it” as He just holds n loves us. I am SO sorry for ur loss. It IS going to b a long road now. My heart hugs u ! TJ (Shane’s momma)

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  6. Not only cried my way through this, I posted it on my Facebook page and asked my family to read it. This will be our first season without my beloved Stephanie, whom we lost in June to her second battle with cancer. We were blessed to have her for 17 years from her first battle with cancer, but it is so hard to think of the holidays (especially Thanksgiving which was her favorite) without her. I pray for strength to get through it!

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    1. Oh, precious mama! The first one we didn’t do much. We requested that family members not give us gifts although we gave to them. We didn’t participate in the extended family gathering but did share a meal. I couldn’t put up the regular tree so I found a small one and filled it with family photos and handmade tags that said “love wins”. It was very, very quiet and filled with tears. This will be our third and I’m still at loose ends. Praying for you.

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  7. I know that I e mailed you yestrerday regarding your feelings. You will never be repriminded by me for the way you feel and the emotions you have or the times you need space of your own and quiet time you need to just remember and to grieve and to cry. Just do the things you can and those you cannot, do not do. Tjomgs will never be the same, The one blessing re: Dominic is that he is truly unforgettable so goes the song. His very being makes me smile. Even in his stubborn moments, he was unique. I love him so much and always will and talk to him each day. I know he is beating those drums in his room in heaven and even though I cannot see him, I hear those drums and I can also hear him saying, I am o.k. I am o.k………………………He enariched my life so much and I love him so he will always put a song in my heart and a smile on my face. Precious sweet Dominic. Love Mama

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  8. When someone asks when my beautiful daughter passed away, I want to answer “yesterday”. Even though several years have gone by, it’s yesterday to me. God through His Holy Spirit has blessed me with beautiful poems, Mate”, “Prayer of a Widow” and other lost loved ones. Freely shared with anyone to needs to hear.

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