Yes, you. I see you—sitting there, trying to swallow down a grief that is stuck in your throat.
You wake up with tears tracing their way down your cheeks like a river through a ravine. They seem endless. Your friends and family rally around, and you figure out this one essential truth:
We cannot outsource our grief.
We cannot halve it, or share it, or pass some of the load to someone else. Other people hurting for us does not lessen or negate our own pain.
We find out that the only thing we can do is wade through it, slowly, as if through molasses. And sometimes, it feels like sinking. Like drowning. Like there will never be a time when we won’t be slogging through the loss. We do the things we have to do, and we do them with grief heavy in our hearts. We’re mired in it, and all the love and encouragement in the world doesn’t absolve us from feeling it. It doesn’t give us a golden ticket around it. Instead, we suffer.
The holidays are infinitely worse, somehow, when one is experiencing loss.
While the rest of the world seems to be making merry and feeling blessed, we’re struggling to go through the regular motions of our lives. We wake up grief-stricken and try to eat breakfast—but end up drinking only coffee and staring listlessly around us as if we’ve forgotten what comes next. We get through the day pushing food around on our plates and doing things on autopilot while we tremble with the overwhelming sensation that is loss.
At night, we lie down to sleep, and we’re exhausted from all of the feelings. Instead of sleep, we have memories and pain. But feasts still go on, decorations go up, lights twinkle in the night. All year long, holidays abound, and time doesn’t stop to allow us to handle our grief.
So how do we, the heartbroken, survive the holiday season?
What can we do to capture some sense of joy in our pain?
A wise friend told me that I should do five normal things a day, and one of them has to be a form of self-care. Maybe it’s a long bubble bath or a nap in the middle of the day. Maybe it’s watching a comedy I enjoy or going for a run. When we grieve, we can stop taking care of ourselves and doing the things we need to do. I think five normal things, with an emphasis on self-care for one of them, is a great start.
For me, I made coffee and washed dishes first thing. Then, I lit some candles and turned on some holiday lights and sat watching cartoons with my children. That’s two normal things—with a little self-care added in. I know that I’ll have to continue on this path. Eating would be a good start, since I tend to neglect that when I am deeply saddened or stressed.
The five normal things might look different for all of us, as will the self-care. What’s important is that we try to keep moving forward.
Being open and honest with our support system is another way to get through the holidays. We don’t have to pretend to be okay when we’re not. We can say that we woke up feeling miserable and cried all day. We can say that our heart isn’t in the holidays this year. There are a number of ways to express our feelings with authenticity. It’s not about making others feel sorry for us; it’s about leaning on the support that’s available through a difficult time.
Processing our feelings is another good way to deal with heartbreak at the holidays.
For me, writing and running are my primary outlets for processing how I feel. This is what I wrote in my grief:
I work my life around
The shape of you
Like I once imagined
I would never have to do
Isn’t life funny
How it withholds our ever after
These are tears
But they aren’t formed of laughter
I wonder at our pure belief
I wonder why we didn’t know
I love you doesn’t always mean forever
Goodbye doesn’t mean we want to go.
Poetry might not be your thing. Perhaps it’s art or music or going to the gym. Maybe you need to write in a journal or go for a walk in the woods. But we do need time to feel what we feel.
I wish that I could say that there was a simple way to get through the holidays. I wish there was a simple cure for heartache. There’s not. All we can do is move through it, in our own way and in our own time. While we have no choice but to experience the pain alone, we don’t have to go through it without the love and support of the people who care about us.
The holidays are also a time when suicides are on the rise.
While I know that you, dear reader, are so very strong and more capable than you can imagine—I believe in you!—I still offer this information in case there’s a moment of weakness where you feel like the grief will not end. Call the Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255, or text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States if you are in crisis.
I’m not going to say that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, even if that’s true.
What I will say is that you’re not alone.
The holidays feel impossible when their happiness contrasts so sharply with our own terrible grief. But we will get through them. If we’re very lucky, we’ll capture some beautiful memories along the way, moments—no matter how small—where we’ll feel love and joy rather than more grief. I wish that for us all.
Another broken heart at the holidays.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Matthew Kenwrick/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis