Grief and Holidays 2022: What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

I wrote this six years ago when I realized how hard it was for wounded hearts to tell friends and family what they needed around the holidays.

It’s been shared more than 145,000 times which might reflect that it hits the mark for at least a few folks. My prayer is it makes a difficult season a little less so.

If it speaks for you, feel free to share and let the ones you love know how they can make a hard season slightly easier on your heart. 


“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.

Read the rest here: Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

Griefwork: Is It OK To Put Some Friendships on “Hold”?

A few years ago I spent the weekend with a small group of bereaved moms.

For our last session together, I solicited anonymous questions from the group that I promised to try to answer and discuss further.

There were lots of good ones but one of the most poignant was this:

Is it OK to put some friendships on hold because the interaction is no longer encouraging to me? I leave lunches together sad because their lives are going fine and I’m in such pain.

A Grieving Mom

My heart went out to this mama for so many reasons!

First, even in her grief she was concerned about doing the right thing, about being a good friend and about rightly interpreting the situation. She knew her friend wasn’t actively harming her. In fact, the friend was most likely trying hard to come alongside and encourage her heart.

But it still hurt.

And so she wanted to know if she was obligated to “grin and bear it” or if she could graciously and authentically set a boundary that meant a little (or a lot!) of distance between this friend and herself-hopefully for only a season.

This is one of the hard truths and difficult conundrums that inform the lives of many grievers. It certainly was part of mine for a long time.

I craved compassionate companionship from concerned friends and family while, at the exact same moment, longed for solitude and seclusion from “ordinary” life.

How in the world could the world just go on? How in Heaven’s name did the entire universe not take note of my great and irreplaceable loss?

For months (probably, honestly, for a couple of years!) there was always a subscript to every conversation and face-to-face interaction that read like Subtitles for a foreign film. And some folks lives were just too beautiful, too happy, too much like the one I wished I still had to endure the emotional burden that gap produced for my wounded heart.

So I had to limit my interaction with them (for their sake AND mine).

I unfollowed (NOT unfriended!) people on social media. They were none the wiser that the hap-hap-happy posts they splashed everywhere weren’t appearing in my newsfeed and I wasn’t constantly confronted by my own envy and sorrow.

I sent cards for occasions instead of showing up at certain celebrations. I chose them thoughtfully and wrote meaningful and sincere messages. I didn’t have a single person react badly that their wish was on paper instead of in person.

I withdrew from some of the groups where this kind of “humble bragging” was encouraged and promoted. It was a long, long time before I went to a women’s event that wasn’t focused on child loss.

No one really noticed.

And for those few relationships that were so close I couldn’t graciously or subtly move away, I told my friend that while I valued them, wanted very much to stay in touch and support them and didn’t want everything to be about ME, I needed to let them know certain topics might make me uncomfortable or sad.

So we tried to get together around activities that lent themselves to “in the moment” conversation. We didn’t linger long over lunch or on the phone. We walked in a park or went to a movie.

In time, as I did the work grief requires and as I grew stronger and better able to carry this burden called “child loss”, I was able to ease some of the boundaries I had put in place to protect my heart.

I never, ever want child loss (or any other hard life event or trauma) to become an excuse for my bad or unkind behavior.

But grief is work and requires so much time, energy and effort!

If I hadn’t made space and given myself the necessary grace to do that work I would not have found the measure of healing I now enjoy.

So, yes, dear heart-it’s OK to set boundaries.

It’s OK to pull back from some relationships to foster healing.

And it’s OK to reach out and let people back in, too, when your heart feels more whole again.

Pause. Reflect. You’ve Come a Long Way, My Friend.

It’s so easy to focus on the miles left to travel and forget how far I’ve come.

Life has a habit of reminding me that there are hills yet to climb, emotional hurdles still to come and (the ever looming threat) gray hair, wrinkles and an aging body with which to tackle them.

But every now and then I remember to take stock of just how many miles I’ve already traveled.

Read the rest here: Take A Minute To Remember How Far You’ve Come

Dismantling The Past

I’ve spent the last two days rearranging our family room.

Since my husband has retired, we no longer use it as we once did and I realized a few weeks ago that it was ridiculous to have it set up the way it’s been for decades when our needs have drastically changed.

So we decided to tackle the job of sorting/moving/dismantling books, videos (yes, we still have a few!), DVDs, CDs and random other bits and pieces of a life long lived in the same place.

For those of you who have moved often you may have been spared the detritus of papers stuck in cracks and crevices on bookcases with the promise to yourself you’ll “put them where they go when I get a chance”.

Me, not so lucky.

I’ve found treasures-scribbles of younger days from my now (very!) grown children-and sad reminders of projects begun and left hanging because we got too busy to see them through.

The one thing I celebrated in taking apart, digging through and tearing down was this: totally destroying and trashing an old, old, old television stand from back in the day when TVs were far too heavy and far too thick to mount on walls or above fireplaces.

I’d always hated that thing.

We bought it as young marrieds when our budget was tight and floor space was precious in our first small home. It did the job but it was just not my style. And at the time, I wasn’t bold enough or strong enough to speak up and advocate for a different choice.

Oh, there are wonderful memories of my two oldest kids putting on shows dressed up in fun costumes and singing along to our cassette tape playlist. We have more than one photo of that delightful era.

But there were years and years of putting up with something that no longer served our needs (because it was here, bought and paid for, and convenient) instead of ditching it and buying something that would both serve and bring delight.

Closest picture I could find to what we had.

So other than a long march down memory lane, what does this have to do with child loss?

I’ve learned since Dom left us that I’ll no longer stay silent when a habit, a situation, a relationship or a piece of furniture doesn’t serve my current mental, physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual circumstances.

I won’t wait for someone else to notice I’m upset or sad or happy or delighted.

I’ve learned to speak up for myself and ask for things I need. I’m learning (haven’t made the progress I’d like!) to set boundaries and tell others that they may come thus far and no closer. I’m trying harder to rid my life of what is unhelpful and unhealthy.

I’m definitely a work in progress.

And most of the work won’t have such a satisfying and concise conclusion as when I cheerfully watch the pieces of that old TV stand go up in smoke.

But I’m committed to continue dismantling the parts of my past that no longer serve my present.

Bereaved Parents Month 2022: Ten Ways to Survive Hard Grief Days

My hardest grief season begins in November and runs to the end of May.  Thanksgiving through Dominic’s birthday on (or near) Memorial Day are days full of triggers, memories and stark reminders that one of us is missing.

If I could fall asleep November first and wake up in June I’d do it.

But I can’t so I have to employ all the tricks I’ve learned in the over eight years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven to survive those particularly challenging months.

Here are ten ways I survive hard grief days:

Read the rest here: Taking Care: Ten Ways to Survive Hard Grief Days

Violence and Trauma Mark a Soul

I first shared this a few years ago when there was a string of suicides linked to previous school shootings.

It made me think about all the ways violence and trauma (even without overt violence) marks a soul. But it’s hardly limited to school shootings.

Truth is, there are people all around us every. single. day. who have experienced some sort of trauma and we rarely realize it. They are doing the best they can to get on with life, to fit in with society, to fulfill whatever roles they have to play.

And often they do it so well that it’s not until they absolutely can’t take it anymore we realize what a heavy burden they’ve been carrying all along.

We need to normalize asking for help.

Witnessing or experiencing horror scars a heart.  And society rarely does a good job making room for the kind of work it takes for that heart to even begin to heal.

Feel-good news stories about activism, heroism and turning tragedy into triumph send a signal that if you can’t “get over it“, “overcome” or “become stronger” in the wake of the most awful day of your life, you aren’t trying hard enough.

But the truth is that most people DO try. 

They try and try and try but trying isn’t enough.  Tragedy and trauma change a person and no matter how much they may want to go back to the “old” them, they just can’t. 

And that is OK. 

Read the rest here: Aftermath Of Violence: Trauma Marks a Soul

“Acceptance” Isn’t a Stage. It’s a Lifetime.

In all fairness, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross had no idea her research would be taken out of context and plastered across professional literature and media outlets as a definitive explanation for the grief experience.

But she didn’t mind the notoriety.

And ever since, counselors, pastors, laypersons and the general public have come to expect folks to politely follow the five (sometimes described as six) stages of grief up and out of brokenness like a ladder to success.

It doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes those that walk alongside the bereaved are biding time, waiting for that “final” stage of grief: Acceptance.

And some therapists, counselors and armchair psychiatrists are certain that if the grieving mother or father can simply accept the death of a child, he or she can move on–they can get back to a more “normal” life.

But this notion is as ridiculous as imagining that welcoming a new baby into a household doesn’t change everything.

And new parents have months to prepare.

Read the rest here: Loving well: Understanding “Acceptance”

Should I Cry Around My Young Children?

This was not my experience-all my children were adults when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven-but so many grieving parents want to know:  Should I let my younger children see me cry?

How much is too much for them to witness, process and hear?

Do I need to shield them from the awful truth of how much this hurts?  CAN I shield them?

It depends.

Read the rest here: Should I Let My Young Children See Me Cry?

The Battle For My Mind: Thoughts Matter

So much of this battle has been fought in my mind.

Really, even more than in my heart.

Because you can’t argue with sad or shock or missing or disappointment.

But you can absolutely argue with hopelessness (there is nothing to live for), apathy (there is nothing to do) and distrust (there is no one who can help me).

Read the rest here: Thoughts Matter

Time, Child Loss and Major Life Changes

I remember thinking in the first days and weeks after Dominic’s accident that the world really needed to just STOP!

Sunrise, sunset, sunrise again felt like an abomination when my son was never coming home again. Shouldn’t the universe take notice that something was terribly, terribly wrong?

But it didn’t.

So life (even for me and my family) carried on.

Some days lingered like that last bit of honey in the jar-slipping slowly, ever so slowly into nights when my brain betrayed me by replaying all the ifs, whys and should haves as I tried in vain to get some sleep.

Others flew by and I found myself months further into a new year unable to remember how I got there and what I’d done for all that time.

My adult children married, moved, graduated, changed careers, and had their own child (another on the way!).

My mother joined Dominic in Heaven.

I got older.

We’ve celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.

Daily life isn’t as difficult (most days) as it was in the beginning but my husband’s retirement has forced me to figure things out once again.

I can’t blame it all on the fact we’ve buried a child. I’m pretty sure most couples struggle to find a new normal when one or both give up long term employment for staying home.

Suddenly my little house kingdom has been overtaken by my husband’s love of music in the background (I’m a work in silence kind of gal), his tendency to leave a trail of breadcrumbs (paper, gum wrappers, tools) wherever he goes and a completely different wake/sleep/work cycle than my own.

I have a plan for the next day the night before. He treats every morning as a blank slate and takes a few hours to decide what he will do. By the time he gets going, I’ve nearly finished my list.

Trying hard to accommodate these changes has laid bare one of the main ways I’ve managed my grief for almost eight years.

I can’t make time stop but I work hard to control it. I schedule and plan and execute the plan in an attempt to reorder life so I don’t feel as vulnerable to its vagaries.

It’s a vain attempt.

My husband’s sense of time is challenging my coping mechanism. Once again I need to figure out how to navigate a changing world, how to carry grief and carry on.

I’m working on it.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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