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Dealing with the feelings that come up around the holidays

Christine-14

All those feelings that come up around the holidays

As the holidays approach, I start hearing from folks in my widowhood community. They talk about the variety of feelings the season is bringing up for them.

A widower, with sadness and confusion in his voice, tells me that the holidays were always “her thing”. She was the one who would:

  • Pick out the perfect Christmas tree.
  • Put out the beautiful decorations.
  • Bake the holiday cookies.
  • Wrap the gifts.
  • Take the kids caroling.

A grieving widow tells me that he was the one who would:

  • Get the decorations out of the garage and attic.
  • Lead the prayers and blessings.
  • Light the Hanukkah candles.
  • Prepare the traditional food alongside her.
  • Organize gift exchanges.

For some people, the coming season will be one of the many “firsts” in their widowhood. The pain is very fresh. For others, this is their second or third time around, and they’re wondering why they still feel so lost and numb and raw.

They say – what if the season overwhelms me with sadness? Will I even be able to function? How will that be for our kids? 

Here are some thoughts about this:

  • Your feelings are very real. You might be tempted to control/hide them. However, this can actually make the holidays harder for both you and your kids.
  • It’s important for everyone in the family (including you) to talk about how they’re feeling about the person who is gone (doing this whenever you feel it is best) and how your feelings are affected by that person not being here for the holidays. 
  • This may feel impossible. Or you may be worried that letting out just one little feeling will cause you to completely go to pieces. Very normal – pay attention to this. Talk to a trusted friend, a spiritual mentor, a therapist. Sharing your raw feelings with them first will reduce the enormous pressure inside you. It will also help the feelings be less overwhelming when you talk with your children. 
  • An important thing to remember – when you talk about your feelings with your kids, it gives your kids permission to talk about theirs. 

Widows and widowers ask me – how about the traditions we’ve always done with the kids? Should I do things as we always did them? Is it bad to not do it for the kids? Here are a few things I’ve seen:

  • Some people have a family meeting to ask the kids how they feel about things like decorations, gift giving, and food. The kid’s responses help guide the holiday process.
  • Some families find it cathartic to keep their traditions going. They talk and cry their way through all the memories that come up.
  • Other folks find that’s just too hard, and they do something completely different. (I’ll be exploring this idea in next week’s blog.)

I know firsthand how the holidays can be filled with huge feelings. The best advice I received as a new widow was to “just feel what I feel when I feel it”. 

And what I found was – just like the ocean – my feelings would wash over me. And just like a huge wave, it could feel overwhelming, sometimes like I couldn’t breathe, like I was drowning, and that it would never stop. 

And then just like the ocean, the wave would go out and I could breathe again, stop crying, and even muster a smile. 

I’m interested in hearing about your experiences as you go through the holidays this year. Send me an email.

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