pic of holiday table

When Christmas Isn’t Merry

Most of our holiday greetings include the idea of happiness in one way or the other. Whether it is “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays,” or “Happy Hanukah,” the idea that smiles and joy and mirth are the only accepted emotions during the holidays presents an eerie peer pressure to those who are grieving the loss of someone who will be missed during these happy times. Even the thought of small talk can be offensive to someone who wonders how everyone can just go on when something so significant has occurred too recently to forget.

In the author’s own voice…

It’s the going on part where most of us part ways with those who grieve. Everyone has dealt with the passing thought that someone shouldn’t still be so upset or that tears shouldn’t still accompany thoughts of the one who is no longer with us. While it is generally accepted that someday tears turn into tight smiles with only a heart twinge as a bodily reaction to the loss, we disagree greatly on how long the process of grieving really takes.

Confusing thoughts like relief after the considerable pain is gone or the disability has passed do not make grieving easier. “She can think and talk again without the limitations of her failing body,” doesn’t make us miss our loved one less. Saying, “At least he isn’t suffering anymore,” will almost always fail to stop the tears of someone who is grieving more than we are comfortable around. If that thought gives you comfort, it is probably best to keep it to yourself in the face of another person’s tears.

Tears shouldn’t be a problem to be solved, says Nancy Guthrie in her blog, What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas. Grief tends to work itself out in tears and tears come at unexpected times, she reminds us. Our own discomfort or judgment that it’s been long enough creates a problem for us. We shouldn’t blame the other person for that discomfort when they are working out their own pain. The discomfort is part of what makes social situations so difficult for grieving people—their tears may not be welcome at our party.

Guthrie suggests that we come alongside those who have lost a loved one and offer to accompany them at gatherings. We can defend those necessary, unpredictable tears and even help others understand that they’ve left the room because being with everyone is too uncomfortable for right now. They need permission to grieve and kudos for their willingness to be around everyone else in the first place. Grief is more often worked out alone.

Sometimes hope can come from unexpected places. I will never forget the time when my daughter discovered that my mother had lost a child at Christmas many years ago and shed tears in front of all of us. It was not the place that she expected empathy after experiencing loss during pregnancy herself. Family gatherings can become a place of hope if we just won’t rush to change the subject or program the loss out of the event as an unwelcome intruder.

Dying is a part of living for all of us. Losing someone along the way is inevitable. Tears will grip our hearts unexpectedly and pain will rack our souls for some time to come. Being together can be a comfort if we can welcome the grief as well as the joy at a time when peace and hope are the reason for the season. Embrace the painful memories along with the joyful ones at your table during this holiday season. It could bring all of your family closer in the process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.