When the Joy of the Season is Not So Joyous

  • December 23, 2023


Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy New Year…….are not phrases that have the same ring after the loss of someone significant in your life.

Every loss is different.  No two are the same.  Many people grieving during the holidays just want others to understand, they can’t be joyous this year and to be honest, joy will be different forever.  After our son Levi died, our lives changed forever.  We had many things to celebrate and be thankful for, but it just wasn’t the same.  Our youngest son was gone……nothing would be the same again, ever.

No matter what the loss is, pregnancy, child, sibling, parent, grandparent, beloved aunt or uncle, cousin or a very close friend, the death of someone significant in your life alters your normal.  During the holidays this loss becomes even more devastating.  What was or was hoped to be will never happen again.  The empty chair, unfilled stocking, or hopes to fill a stocking are gone.  

If you are struggling this year, I want you to know you are not alone.  After the loss of a loved one, many people say stupid things to you in hopes you will “feel better.”  I am sorry for that. We have all been there, saying something we thought was appropriate to now realize it made the person feel even worse.

Many moms and dads who have lost a child from pregnancy loss get especially hurtful things said to them.  For example, here are some common phrases I’ve heard: “Well at least you know you can get pregnant,” “God needed another angel,” and “Don’t worry, you can try again!”  None of these phrases are comforting they are downright rude and hurtful.  You want this baby!  You may not be able to get pregnant again and we aren’t even going to discuss the angel thing.

Dads are often left out altogether in pregnancy loss. He must be “strong” for his partner.  Many people are just plain uncomfortable with seeing someone cry.  Crying is a normal emotion and not one we should ever apologize for. Do we ever tell someone to go do that somewhere else when they laugh or smile? Yet when tears come others are often uncomfortable and will do almost anything for you to stop crying.  Learning to embrace and show your emotions can be uncomfortable at first, but holding them in is just not healthy.  It is okay to not be okay.

We have also found the standard greeting, “How are you?”  to be very difficult to answer.  Every time I heard this the first year and well into the second year, my mind raced.  Do they really want to know how I am?  Is this just a greeting with no thought as to why that question would hurt so much? If I tell them how I am, will they awkwardly look away or say something that makes me angry or feel worse?  I eventually came up with a response that I thought worked: “I am surviving.”

It is okay to not know how to answer that question and to also realize it is truly just a standard greeting people use with little thought of the implications.  Often the small talk that never bothered you before is absolutely excruciating.  The silly comments people make about their trivial problems turn into something you would give anything to be dealing with instead of the loss of the person you miss so very much.

As our family walks through the 3rd year of celebrating the holiday season without our son, I want you to know we get it.  Our loss may be different than yours, but we still get it.  It is okay to be sad.  If this is your first year without your loved one, the longing is real.  The what-ifs hurt.  However, the intensity of your loss does get less devastating with time and purposeful actions.  

Some tips that have helped us:

It is okay to change your “normal” activities this year.  Sometimes being around a crowd of people, even people you love, is overwhelming.  If you decide to go to events, make an escape plan.  Come late and leave early if you need to.  

Many things you used to find comforting just aren’t right now. Keep trying.  Keep walking the journey.  Seek out counseling from a therapist.  Therapy is one of the greatest investments in your journey through grief and in growth through your loss.  Respond to friends and family that offer “anything you need.” I know that is a hard statement as well. The one thing you need, your loved one back, they can not give you.  It is okay to be specific about what you need support with.  Most people do want to support you, they just don’t know how.  It is okay to tell them and also ask what they’d like to help with.  Sometimes even just making a decision is exhausting.

For those reading this who have not lost someone significant in their life, count yourself lucky, but also realize this unfortunately will happen to you someday. We will all experience loss.  Knowing how to support others in loss will help you in the future.

Tips for supporters of grievers:

Be specific with dates and times, give only 2 choices.

Be persistent with reaching out after the loss. Everyone is around and inundating you with support in the beginning. After about a month, you are just left to figure it out.  I set a calendar reminder to reach out at least once a month.  Time does escape you.  Set a reminder.

If the person declines, do not take it personally. It isn’t. Some days you can barely breathe let alone think about meeting up with someone or getting together to socialize.  Keep reaching out.

Offer to support them with specific tasks you like to do.  No one wants someone who hates to clean to come clean their house.  Use your gifts. We all have different ones.  Use your strengths to support those grieving.  

Saying less is more.  Phrases like “I hate this for you,”  “This is terrible,”  and “I don’t know why this happened, I am here to listen to anything you have to say” are welcomed words for any griever.  

No matter your personal history with loss, everyone else’s is unique. You don’t “understand.”

Avoid phrases that are close-ended.  If you want to know how they are, be prepared for tears and sadness. Don’t shy away from it.  The more you can embrace their sorrow, the more heard they will feel.  Finally, know that this season for the griever and those supporting them is a key time.  Grief never leaves you.  It doesn’t get easier, but you can grow stronger with love and support from others.


Moodr Musings

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