Missing A Loved One During the Holidays

For most, the holidays are a highly anticipated time of the year. With songs of good cheer, the warmth of candles, fires, and family, it is an annual gathering of lively sentiment. For others, the holidays are a time to dread, a yearly reminder that someone is missing. It is another holiday spent staring at the empty chair of where a loved one used to sit. See, such gatherings are different after losing someone you love, and consequently, holidays are never the same.

Dealing with immediate death is incredibly hard. The initial shock is soul-crushing. Knowing that your beloved will thereon miss every milestone that you will hit in your life. The phone calls you can no longer make and the hugs you wish would have lasted forever and a day, protecting you from every hurt and pain.

Death can generate instant loneliness. The Holidays are difficult in a different way. With each coming season, festivities confirm the absence of the departed. Although smiles, laughs and ‘I love you’s are shared, there are also whispers of what if. What if they were here? What if they could hear about my great accomplishments this year? Someone always manages to ask, “who’s going to cut the turkey now?”

Seemingly every year you get to that table and your eyes find the same empty seat where they used to sit, and smile, and do that favorite trick of yours where they turn a napkin into a bra. Now such memories are brought up with bursts of laughter, followed by empty silences that seem to hold the weight of the world. It’s important to know that these feelings are okay. Some say “things will get better with time” and in some cases, this is true and okay. Others never fully heal the constantly aching wound that ensued, and that is also acceptable. Death is not cookie cutter, and its presence is very much noticeable during such family events. It is okay to ask what if questions and talk about your favorite memories with that person. It is also okay to not want to talk about them at all and simply create an understanding that their absence is felt. Feeling anger, sadness, betrayal, and loneliness is alright. We are human and hurt cannot always be healed simply.

Perhaps the most difficult task is knowing how to deal with all of this. Of course, you can never fully prepare yourself for get-togethers, but being aware of how you are feeling and how to handle it is always helpful. A picture truly carries a thousand words. Looking at favorite pictures together can be a great way to center a time for collective remembrance and emotion. Even listening to songs or playing a radio playlist in the background of music that your loved ones listened to can ease the mind and add a sense of comfort. Making this person’s favorite snack or dish to pass around the dinner table is a wonderful passive way of thinking about someone. It is okay to keep old traditions as well, as an ode to the departed. Keeping the legacy of a loved one alive can draw a family closer, if even momentarily.

So what can you do to help those around you who struggle every year? Be a shoulder, even when you feel exhausted with their emotion. Death is not a mundane story that is told in the same tone at each gathering, it is a permanent change that can traumatize those who loved someone. Assure them that crying is absolutely acceptable and welcomed. Be warming, considerate and loving. Rather than saying “It will get better”, a heartfelt hug can speak for itself sometimes. All in all, death is very hard to deal with. Allow yourself and others around you to grieve and feel. Remember, it really truly is okay. No matter how you cope, know that the first step is understanding how.