Holiday Grief Survival Guide

There are many days throughout the year that present special challenges to grieving parents.

Some are known only to their hearts and require escaping to the secret place where memories are stored and love is kept.

But others loom large on every calendar.

Thanksgiving. Christmas. Hanukkah.

Those require both invisible strength and a very visible public presence at family gatherings and other holiday events.

I’ve written lots of posts on how to make it through the holidays but I really like this succinct and easy-to-share Holiday Grief Survival Guide infographic. It covers the basics and is a helpful way to shepherd a hurting heart through the holidays. ❤

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Post Holiday Blues: When The Grief Comes Crashing Down

It’s a paradox really-that grieving hearts can be more anxious and more sorrowful BEFORE and AFTER a milestone day, birthday or holiday than on the day itself.

That’s not true for everyone, but it’s a frequent comment in our closed bereaved parent groups.

Fearful anticipation of how awful it MIGHT be can work me up into a frenzy.

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The day of whatever it is usually passes quicker than I thought it could especially if there is a big meal involved and lots of people milling about.

Then everyone leaves and quiet darkness ushers in space and silence.

That’s the moment my heart recounts all the places Dominic should have been but wasn’t. That’s when I think of how his baritone voice was missing from the conversation, his laugh from the chorus of merry makers, his opinion from the slightly heated volley over politics or another current event.

I guess it’s kind of a holiday hangover without the booze.

But there’s no strange concoction I can drink to rid me of these symptoms.

Instead I have to give my heart permission to take out each feeling and FEEL it. I have to acknowledge that even when I spend the day laughing and enjoying family and friends, I still miss Dominic.

So I try to build a day (or two!) of recovery into my holiday planning.

And that’s OK.

Whenever possible that’s exactly what I do.

So you won’t find me rushing out to shop the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas or any of our own family’s unique grief anniversaries.

Instead I’ll wake slowly, drink coffee and watch the sunrise.

I might take a walk, read a book or write in my journal.

I will definitely find moments of solitude to acknowledge that once again I have survived what I thought I might not.

And for that, I’m grateful.

Grief Is As Individual As A Fingerprint

It’s a nearly universal human tendency to try to fit another’s experience into our own.

Even though I try hard not to, I still often find myself saying things like, “I know just how you feel” or, “This worked for me, it ought to work for you”.

Trouble is, grief is as individual as a fingerprint.

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The life that was shared before loss, the circumstances surrounding the loss, family structure, support systems (or lack thereof!), age, social connections, faith, friends and fears all shape how a particular person experiences and processes loss.

  • Some of us have safe people in our circle and can talk things out with them.
  • Others need a professional counselor to work through specific trauma associated with loss.
  • Still others are internal processors and require lots and lots of time alone.
  • One heart finds comfort pouring over old photographs and watching old videos.
  • The next can’t bear to look at any of it.
  • Exercise strengthens him but drains her.
  • Social situations paralyze some of us and help pull others out of our shell.
  • Frequent graveside visits are a means of connection for one person and only a reminder of death to another.

The list could go on and on.

So I’ll say it again:

However you make it through this Valley is just fine. There’s no right way or wrong way to grieve.

As long as you are not harming yourself or others (physically or emotionally) then carry on, dear heart.

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Holidays 2019: Practical Ideas for Dealing With Holidays After Child Loss

It cannot be overstated:  holidays are extremely hard after loss.  Every family gathering highlights the hole where my son SHOULD be, but ISN’T.

There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to handle the holidays after losing a child.

For many, there is only survival-especially the very first year.

These days also stir great internal conflict:  I want to enjoy and celebrate my living children and my family still here while missing my son that isn’t. Emotions run high and are, oh so difficult to manage.

So I’m including some ideas from other bereaved parents on how they’ve handled the holidays.  Many of these suggestions could be adapted for any “special” day of the year.

Not all will appeal to everyone nor will they be appropriate for every family.  But they are a place to start.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/09/04/practical-ideas-for-dealing-with-the-holidays-after-child-loss/

Holidays 2019: What The Bereaved Need From Friends And Family

This is the most shared post on the site.

When I wrote it, I was writing my personal feelings after a couple of years trying to fumble through holidays with friends and family. It was an honest expression of how hard it was and continues to be to navigate the stress-filled season of Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

I’m not sure I’ve grown any more skillful in fitting all the pieces together-especially as our family grows and moves in different directions-but I continue striving to keep the lines of communication open and to try to acknowledge and accommodate everyone’s needs as best I can.


“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.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/09/03/grief-and-holidayswhat-the-bereaved-need-from-friends-and-family/

Holidays 2019: Grief, Holidays And Hard Conversations

One of the things I’m learning in this journey is that people are much more likely to listen and be willing to make accommodations for my tender heart if I approach them BEFORE the “big day”-whatever that may be.

And yes, it seems unfair that those of us carrying a load of grief are also the ones that have to alert others to the load we’re carrying, but that’s simply the way it is.

They don’t know what they don’t know.

So, if you need to change things around consider speaking up NOW instead of huffing off LATER.

Here are some tips on how to approach those hard conversations: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/09/02/grief-holidays-and-hard-conversations/

Hey Fellow Griever-Being Honest Is NOT Being Rude

I never ask anyone to adjust the thermostat in a car or at home unless I’m suffocating or shivering.

It’s a point of personal pride that I can tolerate a wider range of temperatures than most people.

And for awhile, I carried that same prideful disdain for “weaker folks” into my grief journey.

I was determined to endure whatever blows might come my way via comments, behavior, subtle and not-so-subtle attempts by others to circumscribe, dictate or otherwise influence my loss experience. I didn’t want to abandon pride in my own strength by admitting I wasn’t as strong as I wished I could be.

Then one day I realized that being honest was not the same as being rude. Telling the truth was not the same as acting selfishly.

Nothing is gained by remaining silent in the face of ignorance or arrogance or just plain inattention. The person who crosses a boundary of compassion or grace or love or empathy and goes unchallenged is set free to do it again-to me or someone else.

So I started telling people the truth:

  • “I’m sorry, I just can’t talk about this right now.”
  • “I appreciate your need to fill this vacancy but I’m not emotionally prepared to take on any new responsibilities.”
  • “Today is a hard grief day, can we discuss this later?”
  • “I don’t think I will be able to come, it’s too hard to be around a crowd these days.”
  • “I know you mean well, but your comments hurt my heart. You can’t understand precisely what I’m going through and I know that. I would appreciate it if you respected that fact and didn’t try to ‘help’ me by sending articles, etc.”
  • “I’m tired today. I’m taking a break from everyone but family.”
  • “The holidays are hard on my heart. I’m thankful you find joy in them. I won’t be attending the party (family gathering, etc.) this year. Maybe next year will be easier.”
  • “I’m getting anxious, I need to go.”

Guess what?

Except for a lone individual, every time I chose honesty, it was not only accepted, it was applauded.

People got it! Not that they truly understood in the deepest sense what I was going through, but they respected that I was, in fact, GOING THROUGH something hard, heartbreaking and life changing.

Like I’ve said before, my emotions will leak out somewhere. I can’t keep them bottled inside forever.

When I choose to be honest AT THE TIME it’s so much better.

When I let folks know that what they say, do, expect from and thrust upon me is unhelpful or overwhelming or even painful, they usually respond with gratitude. They almost always accept my boundaries.

Those of us walking the Valley often say that those who aren’t just can’t understand. They don’t know what they don’t know.

That’s true.

But they can be educated about some of what we know.

They can learn that some things hurt and most of them would be glad to know it because they don’t wish more pain on our already broken hearts.

It’s OK to ask someone to make adjustments to make the journey less difficult.

Being honest is not being rude.