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Until yesterday, Eleanor and I had felt like we had said just about everything there was to say about grieving at the holidays. Then, our Facebook page blew up with people discussing the first holidays after a loss not being the hardest. The consensus was that this was common and yet totally unexpected for many grievers.
Today's post will be short and sweet. We just need to say one thing about holiday grief before Christmas and New Years are upon us: The first holidays are NOT always the worst. Sometimes they are, sometimes they are not. Grief is complicated like that. Just know if this holiday is feeling even worse than the first holiday after your loss, that is totally normal. And when you think about why, it kinda makes sense.
5 Reasons The First Holiday Might Not Be the Worst
The first holidays were a blur. This is often true, but especially when you lost your loved one in the latter part of the year. Everything is a blur, holidays included. As hard as it was, your mind and body may have still been in a shocked state—and that shock protected you just a bit as you muddled through the holidays.
You cut yourself a break during the first holidays. The first year we know it will be hard and people will (hopefully) be understanding. That can make it is easier to say no to certain events, skip certain traditions, and find support around us. But by Year 2, we may find it harder to say no or admit our holiday grief. Remember: There is no set timeline for grief. You have just as much of a right to cut yourself some slack in Year 2 as you do in Year 1!
During the first holidays, other people gave you a pass. Early on after a loss, we often get lots of support and understanding. This includes during the first holiday season: Others are more likely to support us doing what we need for ourselves. In Year 2 and beyond, people may not be quite as understanding during the holidays. Though it can be easier said than done, try not to let those around you pressure you.
The holidays stop being polite and start getting real. On our Facebook page, several people commented that, in the second year, it felt real that their loved one was truly gone and their holidays would never look and feel exactly the same again. This of course does not mean the holidays can't still be wonderful. It does mean they will always be at least a little hard, different, and bittersweet. For whatever reason, that reality doesn't always set in during Year 1. But it can hit us like a ton of bricks in Year 2, 3 or even beyond.
You thought you would be in a better place this year. During Year 1, you may have skipped things altogether, taken a break, scrapped some stressful holiday stuff, all the while telling yourself you would get it together next year. Well, now it is next year and you are not nearly as 'together' as you thought you would be. You have the pain of the holidays and now you are beating yourself up that you aren't where you thought you would be.
This is usually the point in a post when we give you some practical ideas on how to cope. Luckily, we already have about a zillion other posts about dealing with the holidays. You can read our most recent post on having a happy-sad holiday here, or check out all our past holiday posts here.
The most important thing to remember if your holiday is feeling harder than your first holiday is: You are not alone. You are also not weird, you are not crazy, you are not grieving wrong, and you are still entitled to cut yourself all the slack you need. Sending all our good thoughts to get through the holidays and maybe-hopefully find just a little joy along way.
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.
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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
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