The Longest Night: grief and the winter solstice

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Litsa


The winter solstice is upon us. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it's the 24-hour period with the fewest hours of daylight all year. It's sometimes referred to as the 'longest night of the year', which is either the perfect metaphor for grief and/or the perfect title for an early-aught emo album.

Though I am someone deeply impacted by the darkness of the winter [she wrote, flicking on her S.A.D. lamp], there is something I have long found comforting about the idea of leaning into the winter solstice. Something is reassuring about celebrating the day when the planet seems most aligned with death, grief, and loss, all the while knowing that longer days and shorter nights lie ahead.

In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo famously wrote, "Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise". What he doesn't mention is that it will get dark again. Even the brightest day will end and the sun will set, after all. Though perhaps that sounds depressing, I actually find an incredible comfort in it. We were never promised a life that would be all light or all darkness. It has always been days and nights, joys and pains, calm and chaos, growth and decay. The only constant is that the states are ever-changing, be it the darkness, the weather, the seasons, our bodies, or our emotions.

Well, that and that big box stores will insist on putting their holiday decorations out earlier each year.

On the longest night of the year, in a season that finds you grieving, in a world that is filled with immense suffering and pain, it is weird to be surrounded by twinkle-lights, isn't it? The dissonance can feel too great. People we love are dead. Humans are suffering. What right do people have to hang twinkle-lights and be merry? What does it mean for us to hang twinkle-lights and be merry?

At the same time, we never ask what right the sun has to rise each morning. We know the night and day live side by side, doing their dance across each twenty-four span. They move up and down, across each season, longer and shorter, waxing and waning.

We've rambled more than enough about holidays and grief. We have dozens of articles about it on WYG. I'll spare you more musings and instead just send one hope your way: that you can lean into tonight's long night. Wrap it around your shoulders like a blanket, stay open to the dawn, appreciate the twinkle-lights if you can. And show yourself some kindness and compassion if you can't.

It isn't easy. It's okay if you can't.

Perhaps that is the absolute best and absolute worst thing about grief at the holidays - it may not go the way you hoped or planned, but that's okay . . . the sun will keep rising, the darkness will keep falling, and it will come back around next year for you to try it again.

Let’s be grief friends.

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3 Comments on "The Longest Night: grief and the winter solstice"

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  1. Leigh E  December 29, 2023 at 3:53 pm Reply

    I don’t know how to cope with the loss of my husband of 39 years. We had our own business so we were always together except for the last year he was in the hospital. Life doesn’t seem to be worth living without him – and I’m so damned sad that I don’t want to go on. I need help desperately but don’t know where to turn.

    • Litsa  January 18, 2024 at 2:34 pm Reply

      Leigh, I am so sorry that you are feeling so lost without your husband. Though I know this doesn’t make it any easier, please know that what you are feeling is common for people who have been in such a long and close relationship. It can be so hard to figure out the map to move forward, but it is something with support that most widows are able to slowly but surely rebuild. You might appreciate this article and comments if you haven’t read it: https://whatsyourgrief.com/grieving-death-spouse-significant/ Have you considered a support group for other’s who have lost a partner or seeing a grief counselor? I think either or both of those would be hugely helpful. Also, please know at any time if you are thinking of harming yourself you can call 988. They are able to help you find support and resources in your area. If you are having a hard time finding a therapist or group, please feel free to message us via the contact page and we’re happy to help.

    • Hannah  January 25, 2024 at 12:19 am Reply

      I have a question about grief I am experiencing after the loss of my cat, who I truly feel was my soul mate and best friend. He passed away from heart failure.

      I’ve read some articles here that discuss rational vs. irrational guilt in grieving, but I feel unsure how to approach guilt when you’re not sure whether it’s rational or not. I will never know for sure whether my actions (such as making decisions that caused him stress, sometimes forgetting his medication, etc) contributed to his death or not and I don’t know how to move forward with that uncertainty.

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