Hello, bloggerverse. It has been a while. I think the last time I posted was august. I’m sitting here cringing at that thought… but the truth is that I’ve been dealing with a lot of personal “stuff.” Unexpected, messy, life “stuff.” And I’ll leave it at that – because there’s some “stuff” that doesn’t need to go on the internet. All of the “stuff,” though, has lead me to thinking about how difficult the holidays can be for people in seasons of hurt and loss.
My grandma made Christmas what it was for us. She worked so hard to make sure the house was packed with food, the stockings were stuffed to the brim, and the ornaments were just so on the tree (she sat and examined them every night, looking for imbalances and imperfections).
When we lost her three years ago, it felt like Christmas wouldn’t ever be the same. The spirit of the season seemed to be wrapped up in her very being – and when she died, it felt like she took the holly jolly with her.
We are, though, as human beings, resilient. We persist. We go on. Seasons come and go and before you know it, we’re about to celebrate our fourth Christmas without her. Not even sure how that’s possible – and yet, here we are. This year, Mike and I bought our first REAL Christmas tree (and by real, I mean fake, but a whopping 7.5 ft tree, as opposed to our five foot tree from years’ past) and for the first time, my grandma’s tree skirt envelopes its base. Four years later, I’m happy to say that the tree skirt brings me more joy than sadness. It’s a symbol of a full life of love, rather than a reminder of loss. I’m able to look at the tree skirt and feel hope for the Christmases to come, where we try our best to uphold her tradition of love and family.
But three years ago, there was “stuff.” And this year, there’s new “stuff.” And I know I’m not alone in it. I know that, for anyone going through “stuff,” the holidays suck.
We can just call a spade a spade. When you’re going through stuff, Christmas songs seem to be nothing more than a painful soundtrack to happier times. Consumerism becomes tedious and overwhelming. And glad tidings? To who? Me? No thank you.
My guess is that all of us, at some point or another, have had some level of “stuff” happening to us while we’re being bombarded with messaging insisting that it’s the hap-happiest time of the year. If this year isn’t that year for you, thank God – genuinely speaking. We don’t truly realize the weight of suffering until we experience relief.
However, you might know someone who IS going through “stuff” this year – which begs the question: how can you help? How do you treat someone who is going through a difficult time at the holidays? How can you help to fix this for them?
The most important thing I’ve learned about grief is this: you can’t fix it.
Let me repeat: you can not fix someone’s grief. You can not expedite their grieving process. You can not diminish it. You can not heal it. And you know what? That is a very tough pill to swallow. It’s a horrible feeling to see someone you know and love in pain and to have to come to terms with the fact that you can’t do much to alleviate it.
So, how DO you treat someone in the throws of grief?
Share in it.
At the holidays, we open our homes. We share our cookies. We share our resources. But for some reason, we don’t know how to share our grief – we just want to FIX it so we can get back to the merry merry. If you know someone who is grieving this holiday season, pull up an oversized armchair and a cup of hot cocoa and sit with them in their grief. Maybe they want to talk. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they need you to listen. Maybe they don’t. Give them the say. But either way, be present. Be open. Don’t ignore it – trust me, you’re not reminding them of their sadness: they. are. sad. whether you’re there or not.
But if you’re there, they might be sad, but they won’t be alone. Validate their feelings. Agree that the situation sucks – don’t try to look on the bright side for them. Listen, there is a time and a place for bright side, but if you bring up the bright side to me prematurely, I will find a special place to put it 😉 Eventually, people need a bright-side-of-life type of person, but when you’re grieving, you need someone who can see you through the dark side first.
Admit when you don’t know what to say. I’ve found that this is the best thing I can do sometimes: “I wish there was something profound or helpful I could say right now – but I know that nothing I say is going to make this better. Just know that I’m going to be right here with you, and we’ll get through it together.”
When you try to find the right thing to say, you’re trying to fix it – and grief can not be fixed. Grief is a process. Be there for the process.
It’s hard. We are a society BENT on instant gratification. We want things yesterday and in 140 characters or less. Grief takes time – it’s a process contrary to everything with which we’ve become accustomed.
If you’re going through “stuff” this holiday season, my hope for you is comfort and joy. Not today or tomorrow. Maybe not even next year. But perhaps in a few years, Christmas songs will once again be a soundtrack to happy times and the idea of comfort and joy won’t make you want to through Santa’s cookies out the window. I do believe you will have comfort and joy again. I do believe that a tree skirt can be a happy memory. And until then, we can sit together until the “stuff” clears.