People are generous with their kind words immediately after you have lost a loved one. Despite death being a inevitable part of everyone’s life, people often feel awkward about what to say; but at least the time and space provided by social norms are there to encourage them.
Unfortunately that window for condolences closes up fairly quickly, and the awkwardness morphs into the fear that they will upset you if they mention your loved one. You are now left with your own awkwardness surrounding how to talk about your grief, how to bring it up. Maybe a prescribed period for wearing black back in the day wasn’t such a bad idea. Black arm bands or those silicone bracelets could work nowadays. It just seems like we could use something to indicate “handle with care.”
“Time heals all wounds” is not so much a falsehood, as it is too simplistic. Yes, the hurt scabs over, and the pain dulls, but the loss is healed with a scar. A scar that tugs and throbs predictably, yet can grab you unexpectedly .
The holidays and anniversaries with their brightness and intensity serve to highlight the voids . . . voids you can often avoid staring into on a day-to-day basis once your grief scar has formed.
“My mom should be here baking cookies with my kids. She always had the patience to make cut-outs.”
“This is where my son’s stocking should be hanging.”
“My father always lit the candles.”
And while you can predict the holidays are going to be tinged with blue, it’s often the little things that surprisingly leave you with the most intensely hollow longing. To prepare for my college freshman daughter’s homecoming for winter break, I was changing her sheets, even though she had only slept in her bed a couple of nights over Thanksgiving and changing sheets is one of the household chores I inexplicably hate the most. I mean, there are so many tasks that are so much worse. Scrubbing toilets anyone?
But as I was grumbling at myself for performing this largely unnecessary task at 11:30 PM, I was overcome. I sank right down on the floor among the pillows and stuffed animals as tears slid down my cheeks. Changing sheets was my mother’s love language of comfort. Sick with a fever? Clean sheets. Home from college, just had a baby, recovering from surgery? Clean sheets. Facing my fourth Christmas without her, I was unconsciously following her script for loving, and grieving anew that she would never give this “love letter” to me again.
Rest assured, you are not the only one “still” grieving. You are not the only one who knows how grief and joy can snuggle side by side, neither diminishing the impact of the other. You certainly aren’t the only one who understands the bitter truth about how time actually heal wounds.
Since I know I’m not alone, this holiday season I am going to reach out to others to give them a space to share. The internet isn’t only about political rants and cat videos. It’s for connecting. I encourage you to try a post as simple as “I miss the way my mother descended on my house a couple of days before Christmas with a cooler bursting with pure deliciousness and a trunk brimming with presents. I miss the way Aunt Ruth delighted us with the latest musical holiday toy from Hallmark each year. What do you miss about your loved ones?” My friend Meredith of The Mom of the Year did this sort of thing in a Facebook group we share, and the resulting comments were uplifting. She is my inspiration.
Follow Meredith’s lead and don’t be afraid to create the space you need for your grief. You never know who you will help as you help yourself.
Hey! Want to buy our new book? I Just Want to Be Perfect brings together 37 hilarious and relatable essays that showcase the foibles of ordinary women trying to be perfect.
Check out our books, “I Just Want to Be Alone” and “You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.”