cottonbro studios

How To Deal With Grief Over The Holidays

When I walk through the stores and hear “Joy to the World,” I have a visceral reaction—I shudder. I want to walk out of the store and roll my eyes. It is not because the Christmas music and holiday decorations started before Thanksgiving (however, that is an abomination), it is because this will be my first holiday without both of my parents. The songs saying “Joy to the World” or “Deck the Halls” constantly remind me that I am feeling the wrong feelings. I am supposed to be happy during this time. I am not supposed to be sad. If I am, I am supposed to place that grief in another box or turn that grief into joy—at least, during this time of year. These are the messages I and many others often receive. We are told that it is better to be joyful and happy. That we must spend time with family and friends because it will make us “feel better.” All the hard feelings that we are experiencing we are supposed to put aside. Deal with them later.

These are the wrong messages.

As a therapist, I walk my clients through experiencing hard feelings, noticing them in their bodies, thoughts, and actions. Many of my clients share that they are uncomfortable doing so, not just because it is not typical in our society to feel hard feelings, but because they have been told that it can make others feel uncomfortable.

I don’t care about your discomfort. Why do I have to take care of you when I am trying to mend myself? Shoving our feelings aside to fake a joy that is not there in order to make others feel comfortable only further pushes the grief down until it oozes out into other areas of our lives.

I am experiencing loss and I am grieving this holiday season. Many others are too. It is okay to grieve—fully grieve. I am going to lean into those hard feelings and experience the sadness, the anger, the despair. I encourage you to do so too, not shove it aside, because it will only pile up and fall, shattering around you.

This holiday season, if you are not wanting to spend time with others, don’t. Be alone in your own presence and connect with yourself. If you are not wanting to be joyful, listen to carols, see the lights, don’t. It is okay to be sad. It is okay to mourn the loss. The holidays create a memory of this loss in every tradition.

Christmas is a time we spend with others, but for some of us, those others are no longer here. We are filled with memories of their presence and reminders of their being when we participate in activities or traditions, we feel that emptiness. It’s okay to feel that. It’s normal.

As a society, we struggle to know what to do with hard feelings, with feelings of loss. We do not allow ourselves to fully grieve and acknowledge death. Death is natural and normal—it is scary, but so is the grief that follows.

We are often told that we are supposed to put a timeframe on our grief and put our grief in neat little boxes, set it aside and deal with it later, especially if you are alone in the grief and have no one to lean on.

Instead, the message should be that we need to embrace the grief. We need to allow ourselves to feel whatever feelings come up for us. Embrace it.

We all grieve differently. Who is to say that how you grieve is wrong? We all process loss at different intervals.

My mother used to spend time with me and my in-laws every Christmas. This year she will not. It will be jolting, different. I am going to have to navigate this new world without her. Her absence will also bring up memories of my late father and the knowledge that I am now an adult orphan—this is a strange feeling to waddle in. The family unit I held so dear has disappeared.

I am going to lean into my despair. If I feel joy, I will lean into that too. But I am not going to feel guilty about not being happy. I am going to allow myself room to slowly wade through the feelings of grief.

So, remember your support, but set boundaries. Allow yourself to feel sadness and joy, whatever comes organically for you. Embrace your loss. Take care of you.