Part of the When Your Family's Lost a Loved One: Handling the Holidays Series
Holiday traditions are meant to add joy and meaning. If they only seem like another heavy burden this year, leave the decorations packed up. Don't send out the cards. If the weight of grief makes travel harder this year, perhaps you don't need to make the trip.
On the other hand, adding cheer to your usual surroundings – or getting away from them – might feel really good. There may be some tears as you and your family put the ornaments on the tree, but those tears may help to release some of your disappointment over the fact that the person you love is not here this year.
You may not relish the work of getting out a family Christmas card – especially taking a group photo with someone glaringly missing. But sharing your loss and honoring your loved one through holiday communication might be the perfect way to bring some joy back into the season.
When I remember that first Christmas after Hope died, I picture myself standing at the sink preparing Christmas dinner – with tears running down my face. The void was enormous. Tears were the only way to release the pain I felt.
There's no avoiding sadness when our hearts are broken, but neither is there a complete absence of joy. Sometimes I think we're afraid to feel joy when we're grieving; it can feel like a betrayal to be happy. Or we fear that if we're too happy, those around us will think we're officially "over it" and our sorrow will no longer be tolerated.
Experiencing sorrow doesn't eliminate joy. In fact, I've come to think that sorrow actually increases our capacity for joy. As our lows are lower, our highs are higher. Deep sorrow expands our ability to feel all emotions deeply.