Conversations in Grief Blog: What You Wished You Would Have Known

Rainbow Community Care Team
November 22, 2021 / 5 mins read

While the pain of your grief is real every day, special days may be even harder to face. “The worst days now are holidays, “writes a grieving father (Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book Lament for a Son). I asked a group of wives and husbands, mothers, daughters, and nieces: What do you wish you would have known before your first holiday season without your loved one? They wrote this for you. My hope is that their responses will encourage you, as you approach the holidays to Reorient, Relax, Rely, and Remember.

Reorient: This holiday season will not be the same. In the wilderness of your grief, stop and examine your internal compass to discover where you are. Claim your right to find your own way through.

1) What you did routinely may be difficult. Following the traditional Christmas Eve service, attended without his wife for the very first time, this grieving husband found himself saying on the drive home, “I wish I wasn’t alive right now…I wish I was with her.” What are those routine traditions that may knock you breathless this year?

Shopping for gifts and wanting to buy gifts for your person.

Waking up and realizing you are all alone for the holiday.

The opposite is also true: Sitting at the dining room table for Christmas dinner surrounded by people and discovering you want this to be over.

2) You are in control and you get to make the decisions that are right for you and your family, whether it is to do nothing at all or do everything new.

Relax: Take care of yourself. Your grief has torn you apart, you are wounded, and you get to protect yourself.

1) There is no right or wrong, No have to. It’s so important to do what feels right even if it means skipping events. Give yourself permission to be selfish.

2) It’s okay to avoid the big crowds of revelers. You can stay home. You don’t have to go out there and fake it.

3) It’s okay to not be excited about the holidays.

Rely: You will need other people in order to survive this. Lean on those who have been good at companioning you as you grieve.

1) One person expressed that she purposely lit candles to remember who was missing. Except no one said anything. The attempt to honor them with the candles was lost. She reflected, “I wish I would have shared my feelings and not held it all in.”

2) Cry with family and friends because you need to walk this journey with others, not always by yourself.

3) When people ask to help, ask them what they think they can help with; making a meal, getting your mail, picking up a few groceries, or sitting with a loved one so you can shower or nap. Turn the question back on them.

4) Someone else expressed, “I wish I would have asked for help. I was so overwhelmed. I was wrapping presents and crying.”

5) Remember that your family is also going through the holiday without their loved one. If you choose to be vulnerable and honest about the pain of your grief, you offer a gift to the other people in your lives. Vulnerability will pull a family together.

Remember: Keep your loved one with you by honoring them, by saying their name, by sharing memories, by doing things your person loved doing. Make their memory part of your holiday.

1) Volunteer or make a donation in memory of your person. Helping others will help you.

2) A bereaved wife and mother has added names of her loved ones to her Christmas cards every year, sometimes with halos on their names, as a recognition that they continue to be part of the family.

3) Another family gave a toast to their loved ones at the dinner table and talked about them.

4) Light candles to remember who was missing. If no one is able to share, have your own memory ready to share. Acknowledge that silence can be an expression of loss, a way to honor the person who is missing.

I drive many unfamiliar roads in southern Wisconsin and rely on my GPS to get me where I need to go. Sometimes my GPS gives me the option to “re-center” the map because I can no longer see where I am on the map. I offer you the same option as you navigate this unfamiliar holiday grief: Re-center yourself. You get to decide which way to go.