Four Grief Myths to Eliminate Over the Holidays
“My daughter and I always talk about Mike Jr. … We want to remember and celebrate him.” —Vanessa A. Robinson (HEART GUIDE, mother whose son passed)
“The holidays are hard. … I don’t think the grief is ever completely gone. You don’t get over it, and I don’t think you’re supposed to.” —Katharine J. Oberreich (HEART GUIDE, daughter whose father passed).
During the holiday season, many of us gather in community to share meals, gifts, and laughter. In times past, our celebrations may have focused around a sacred story that highlighted the changing of the seasons, the harvest before winter, the birth of a child, the shining star that lights our way, the speaking of mysteries and of the unknown, the flame that burns bright through dark nights, or the deepening of our spiritual journey while here on this earth.
Ancient holiday rituals and stories may have gotten lost in modern times, with seasonal activities no longer nourishing our hearts and souls the way they originally were intended. Additionally, for some people, there may be feelings of loss that don’t get shared during the holiday festivities. Perhaps we don’t want to make others uncomfortable with our sadness. Or perhaps family members and friends no longer remember the sacred aspects to these gatherings.
Nevertheless, our enormous capacity for love in the face of loss is worthy of a place at the holiday table.
With that in mind, here are four ways to address common grief myths during the holiday season:
- It’s not morbid to talk about someone who has passed. Talking about the people we love can be restorative. The topic of loss doesn’t have to be taboo during the holidays. On the contrary, our ceremonies can invite our loved ones who have passed (and all our ancestors) to join us. They can be with us in spirit. We can remember their favorite foods or their favorite songs or share our favorite stories of them. As Vanessa who lost her son says, “People want to act like someone didn’t exist, like putting a cork in a bottle.” You can’t bottle it up.
- We don’t have to wear a “happy face” holiday mask. We can feel whatever we feel. During significant milestones and celebrations, moments of intense sorrow may get triggered. We might also experience moments of heartfelt gratitude and joy. We don’t have to pretend to be happy if we feel sad, and we don’t have to feel guilty if we feel joy. We don’t have to put on a show for others or numb our feelings with alcohol. We are human, which means we have access (and the right!) to a wide range of emotions. The holidays don’t suddenly change our capacity to deeply feel a jumbled mix of emotions.
- We don’t have to buy into commercialized celebrations. We can decide how to celebrate and who or what to honor. The holidays don’t have to become a stressful frenzy of purchasing goods and attending parties. They can be peaceful gatherings that nourish the heart and soul. We can be intentional about making our holiday celebrations meaningful. We can try to remember why we gather. Being with people we love or sharing a home-cooked meal can then foster gratitude rather than frustration or resentments.
- We are never truly alone. Our loved ones live on in our hearts, in our memories, and in our daily deeds. Grief isn’t an eight-week course that we sign up for and then graduate. Those we love stay with us forever. They may not physically be here, but they are here. They are here in the breeze, in the sunshine, in feathers, in songs, sometimes in the eyes of those who live on, and in brief moments glimpsed between the veil of this world and the next. Above all, I believe our loved ones want us to be happy.
This holiday season, try to create rituals and ceremonies that celebrate what you hold sacred in your life and in your heart. Be intentional about finding ways to honor your truth. Most importantly, be gentle and be kind – to others, and especially to yourself.
In joy and gratitude,
Diana J. Ensign