Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Silence of the Holidays

The holidays leave us bruised and wondering if they’re worth the trouble.

They used to be Holy Days when time was set aside for looking at our selves, figuring out what we didn’t like, gathering spiritual guidance, and adjusting our lives so that we would head in the direction we wanted. We have morphed the observances into excuses to indulge in excess.

Besides Christmas, other religions and cultures have observances at this time of year, like the Jewish Hanukkah and the African American Kwanzaa. They acknowledge miracles, core values, the changing seasons, the Solstice, and the celebration of light in the midst of dark winter months.

This is what I like about some of these holidays:

Thanksgiving — We gather as a family and eat too much turkey, eat root and gourd vegetables, and lots of pie — pumpkin, pecan, mincemeat, apple, cherry, and blueberry. Then we fall asleep on the couch or in an easy chair in front of the TV. We also have leftovers to eat for the next week so we don’t have to cook.

Christmas — We decorate the house, the yard, the pets, buy gifts for everyone we like, and some we don’t, because we’re polite. We bake a lot of cookies, shop every day, sing Norwegian sleigh bell songs, and some of us get to watch the snow come down.

New Year’s Eve — We stay up too late, drink too much, and eat too many rich foods. We toast each other and resolve to make the coming year the best one ever. On New Year’s Day, we watch football games, movie marathons, or entire television series for hours, falling asleep on the couch or in an easy chair.

Yet before the special days arrive, we’ve already spent a bunch, partied too much, and we’re exhausted. And if we don’t get along with everyone in our family, arguments break out, and we end up not speaking to each other for another year.

Is this what we want from our holidays? For most of us, it is.

Because, in a superficial way, the holidays say that JOY still exists. And we need to hear this. We need this boost as the year wearily comes to its end.

We’re responding to the LONGING we feel for something deeper in our lives than what we find in our daily lives. It’s the longing that people throughout the centuries have felt at this time of year. So we observe the ancient rituals and traditions to assure ourselves that HOPE still exists and we will be okay.

But if we’re grieving, the holidays are traumatic.

Whether we lost a spouse, friend, parent, sibling, or child, the happy messages constantly remind us that someone we loved is dead. Everywhere there are triggers — the holiday sounds, foods, smells, music, decorations, even the crisp feel of the air. When we’re in despair, all the joy being thrown at us only drives us deeper into the grief of our battered hearts.

For friends who are grieving, the best gift you can give is to not insist that they be happy.

They can’t set their grief aside just because it’s the holidays. But you can invite them to your party, and allow them to sit on the side, enjoy the music and the banter of conversations without taking part, and leave when they need to go.


The gift of the holidays is compassion. No special wrapping required.

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