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(When It’s Not) The Most Wonderful Time of Year

Holidays carry feelings of anticipation, excitement, renewal, and appreciation. Families and friends gather to celebrate the year that’s been, and the year that is coming. Family dinners, holiday parties, and traditions, both old and new, fill these weeks. It can be the most wonderful time of year for some, but for others the holiday season is not wonderful at all.

This past March, my wife and my unborn son passed away unexpectedly. The loss of my wife and unborn son tore apart everything I knew. On Wednesday night, I fell asleep knowing that within 24 hours, I would be a father, and my wife would be a mother. The next day I was a widower.

I won’t go into great details about how the loss has changed the landscape of my life. But for those who have lost a loved one, the grief we carry with us can be felt in sometimes seemingly random places: a favorite holiday song when you are in the grocery store buying Brussels sprouts, the sparkle of a child’s eye when they see Santa in the mall, or making your shopping list only to realize that there is one less person on it. The feeling of closeness that the holiday season brings is a double-edged sword when the one you were close to is no longer here. Your life is now different and learning to navigate that takes time, sometimes a lot of time.

I am grieving and absolutely understand the intense emotions that accompany the holidays. How do I plan to get through this holiday season? How does anyone get through these times? I don’t know that I have a plan as much as a sense of what will feel okay and what won’t.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one this holiday season, below are some suggestions for helping you through the holiday season.

  1. Acknowledge you are grieving and the holidays may be tough. Acknowledge this to yourself and to others. It’s not simple but saying something like “I lost my wife (husband, child, aunt, etc.) this year so if I start crying, don’t worry, it’s not your company” goes a long way in letting people know your circumstances and gives you permission to feel what you need to feel.
  2. Ignore people who tell you what you “should” or shouldn’t” be doing (including yourself) unless you are paying that person a lot of money to tell you what to do–like my shrink. If you don’t have one, that’s okay but also don’t hesitate to get one if it all becomes too much. Even people who aren’t dealing with the loss of a loved one seek professional support this time of year!
  3. Give yourself a break. Be kind to yourself. Earlier I said that losing someone you love is like having the landscape of your life change. It will take time to figure out the new landscape–where everything is, and how it all works now. The first step is being able to open your eyes and look around at it. This can take some time. Give yourself the time.
  4. Get by with a little help from your friends. I learned that I am not alone. While I may not have my loved ones, I do have people: a lot of people who offer support, love and just their presence which allows me to grieve and more importantly, allows me to heal. I feel hollow knowing this won’t be the year I celebrate my son’s first Christmas with my wife but I won’t be alone while I am feeling this way.

This holiday season, the spot in my bed will be cold, the room down my hall will be unexpectedly quiet, and the seats at my dinner table will be empty. So many things will be forever different this year. But what I hope is that we can find solace in the knowledge that there are people in our lives who give freely of themselves. They will find ways to offer us comfort and hope; and while they may not be able to fill the void, they can sit quietly with us in its presence.