Unhappy Holidays: Navigating Loss & Grief

7 Strategies for Getting Through “the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” When You’re Hurting

David Valdes

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Photo: Kindel Media for Pexels

Lights all aglow. Carols filling the air. Endless exhortations to cheer and merriment. If you’re in a happy mental state when the holidays roll around, the joyful sheen on seemingly everything can expand on that happiness. But if you’re wrestling with loss, it can have the opposite effect: isolating you and even deepening your grief.

I’m a Christmas person, always have been. In the best years, I’m a sucker for every tacky lawn display, I start listening to carols the moment Halloween passes, and I’m not above changing my pillow covers for a more reindeer-forward look. But not every year is one of those years. I have experienced holidays after the death of a parent, a divorce, a job loss, the end of a cherished relationship, and sometimes more than one in the same season. When that happens, the holidays feel as much like a burden as a reward.

So how do you get by when “the most wonderful time of the year” isn’t at all?

Accept Grief as It Is

When my mom died, I thought I had grieved her loss and moved on by the time the first Christmas rolled around. I had stopped instinctively calling her on Saturday mornings and I hadn’t dreamed of her in months. Christmas morning came and I found myself in a fog as my daughter opened her presents. My ex-husband and I ate cinnamon rolls and played Christmas music, FaceTiming with his family. But a cloud settled over me that I couldn’t shake. Despite the cold outside, I donned my puffy coat, wrapped a scarf around my face, and headed out for a walk, leaving them both behind.

I might as well have been sleepwalking. I clearly remember the moment I realized I had walked two miles, all the way to the far end of my town, without seeing a thing. My first thoughts were confused — was I sick? What was the matter with me? It honestly took me a while to realize that I was grieving. Later, when I told this story to others who had lost their parents, none of them were surprised. Everyone had their own stories of when they just couldn’t function.

Grief takes so many forms; beyond the expected tears, it might look like spacing out…

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David Valdes

David Valdes is a Cuban-American author who writes about family, race, and LGBTQ issues. His book Brighter than the Moon releases in January 2023.