There is something about the winter — the holiday season, the traditions — that makes grief feel really palpable for me and many others. While there is a lot of joy, celebration, and positivity, for me there is also an underlying feeling of overwhelm. Everything there is to do, everyone to see, all the things to buy, all the magic to be made. It is generally fun stuff for me, but it can also bring the anxiety that hovers (mostly) under the surface to the top and ready to boil over at any minute.
I love traditions. I love family gatherings. I love the cute, coordinating outfits. I love to eat, drink, and be merry. I also spent several holiday seasons masking my infertility sadness. Trying to see if there was an amount of decorations I could buy that would undo my pain (turns out the limit does not exist). Wishing I had someone to dress up cute, someone to put on cards, someone to make memories with. Now, I have those things I yearned for, but that little twinge of sadness never really disappears. I think of my friends still in the struggle, celebrating with family or friends but still feeling that sense of longing and loss.
Also, I can’t think of any holiday or gathering without thinking of my dad. The winter months were always packed with activities for my family: Thanksgiving, Mom’s birthday, Dad’s birthday, Christmas, New Year’s, brother’s birthday. November to January was a chaotic gauntlet of cake and confetti. But in 2018 we added another date into the mix — January 17, the day my dad passed away.
He was larger than life, literally and figuratively. He loved to coordinate a family gathering, a menu, the grocery shopping, and, more specifically, the exact timing of preparing each menu item to ensure everything would be hot and ready at the same time. A lost art, to be honest.
Mom did the heavy lifting around Christmas (relatable, am I right?) but Dad was a more-than-willing participant in the holiday pageantry — funky handwriting for gifts from “you know who,” making us wait to get up until a certain time, preparing the coffee, the anticipation brewing. Cinnamon rolls, story reading, and sibling sleepovers for way more years than we could really justify. All the end-of-year things are bittersweet with those memories popping in and out.
And, then, January comes around. All the chaotic — but distracting — hullabaloo stops. But the cold, dark, and dreariness continue with that anniversary looming.
For those grieving — whether it was recent or long ago — here are a few things that have helped me:
- Feel your feelings, no matter what they are
- Tell stories
- Say no (just because your calendar is open doesn’t mean you’re free!)
- Get some fresh air, even if it is cold
- Do things that make you feel good — movement, napping, binging horrible movies, whatever!
- Hide sometimes if you need to
- Ask for help
For those with someone grieving in your life, here are a few suggestions for you:
- Put important dates in your calendar and send that card or text
- Give grace
- Check in, without obligation
- Talk about their person. I promise this is almost always better than not talking about them.