• By Natalie Cooney, LMFT

Holiday Grief


Like many of you, my husband and I set up our Christmas decorations this weekend. Well, I should clarify; I demanded and orchestrated an elaborate (if an apartment can be elaborate) Christmas decorating time where I chose to be finicky with everything, down to the size of the tree, the color of lights, and the placement of our hanging snowflakes. This “finicky” did not become apparent to me until my husband, after the hours of my madness, had been sorely misrepresented and under-acknowledged.

I NEEDED this Christmas to be good. I NEEDED our Christmas to be different, to be ours, alive, predictable and clean. In my seeking this out (with ferocity and tenacity I wasn’t exactly aware of until hindsight kicked in via my husband), I had dampened what was happening, numbed out what was really underneath the surface.

I didn’t know until I sat down to assess what was really happening in my inner landscape that I had a considerable amount of pain underneath the surface. Heartbroken actually. I had been holding, for weeks, an insurmountable amount of pain, a gnawing at my heart I hadn’t quite been able to put my finger on. And so, like a good Irish-German girl does, I just kept going. I would try to tap into it when I had the space, but nothing would ever come. I knew something was there, but it was like I couldn’t access it until the fullness of the Christmas season arrived over the weekend.

This is how grief works, you can tell something is there, or you have the feeling like something is missing all the time, but it takes a ton of happy people, beautiful surroundings, feelings of joy and BOOM…grief.

And within minutes of acknowledging what is really inside, “There you are, I see you”. I say through my wet eyes and warm face.

“I was waiting for you, because I AM heartbroken somewhere inside and I needed to acknowledge you, feel you and let you in”.

I don’t know what it is for you this Christmas season, maybe your grief has already visited you, maybe you won’t be having it at all until it decides to roll into town on another wave some day. Or, maybe just spending a little bit of time checking into your inner world reveals that slight hint of heartache of what you’ve lost, what you don’t have yet, or that uncomfortable mixture of joy and sorrow.

You may be really really trying to conjure up some joy and it’s been hard because its deeply connected to this deep reservoir of loss and pain that you’ve made it through. Yes, that’s right, you have made it, and if not yet, you are alive and will, somehow, make it through this.

For me, I was trying to avoid familiar feelings of loneliness, confusion, unpredictability and a shadow of heartbreak by creating my perfect holiday décor. In my attempt to make it through Christmas without more pain, I forgot to honor what losses still needed my attention and my holding. I needed to remember and spend time with not having my brother here anymore. I needed to acknowledge that everyone who ever knew him is still feeling the absence of him even almost 12 years later. He was that cool, beautiful and free! I need to hold the fact that my family has been through a lot and we are not put back together yet and may never be. I needed to acknowledge that things like family dynamics and unresolved relationship injuries are also losses, and quite painful in fact. Regardless, I needed to acknowledge the losses and sense into all of those people who know pain and are making it through it.

Sometimes we have to let ourselves grieve another layer, even if the loss(es) took place a long time ago. So let that happen. These are tender areas of your life and need to be held tenderly and not bulldozed through. It may seem counter-productive to feel it during a “joyous” season, but it happens like this because this season has opened it up for some more healing and more acknowledgment.

Keep these losses close to your heart and speak to them when you get lonely, triggered, busy or when things get blurry and out of focus in your life. They are there—all those times when loss entered your world and you may have not had the space to grieve or you may have grieved but it was too big to be grieved all at once, or that moment you realized it was the relationship dynamic that was the source of your pain, confusion and heartbrokenness. The feelings are there—just underneath the surface.

Light a candle for them, sing to them, send hugs to them, hold them, support the feelings with your hands on your heart, rock them gently, dance with them, pray for them, write to them, breathe, cry, feel them while your house (or apartment) is full of Christmas lights, smells and sounds, and speak to them from your heart.

“My precious losses, I am here, let’s sit together and remember. Do you want some tea?”


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Colorado | California

760.456.7713

natalie@compasshealingproject.com

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