Holiday Hodge Podge

By: Lindsey Dell

Holidays… Am I Right?? That time of year when families are getting together and celebrating, exchanging gifts, reminiscing about happy times of years past. The time of year when people are constantly reminding you to be thankful and grateful for everything you have. Maybe you have one of those families that likes to go around the table at Thanksgiving and “name one thing you’re Thankful for.” I’m here to tell you, it’s ok if you can’t think of anything. I’m here to tell you if the only thing you’re thankful for this year is that you got out of bed to eat, that’s ok. Grief is difficult and it tends to pull up a seat at the table during the most inopportune times (as if there is ever a good time).

One of the hardest things about holidays, in my opinion, is setting boundaries. Boundaries with family, boundaries with friends, boundaries with jobs, etc. I am the first to admit that I am terrible at setting boundaries because in the true spirit of an empath, I don’t ever want to hurt anyone’s feelings by saying “no.” What does that usually mean? It means that I typically end up doing things that I don’t want to do because I have never learned to exercise my right to say NO.

Now, let’s be clear about something. There is a difference between setting boundaries and just being rude. Since I’m always afraid of coming off as rude, I don’t set any boundaries and that just avoids that problem (see also: doormat). I’m definitely not here to help you set boundaries because as previously stated, I don’t know how. I follow a woman on Instagram who is AMAZING at explaining boundaries and I am just fascinated at her ability to say the things that she says in a respectful way. If you also struggle with boundaries, her name is Melissa Urban (founder of The Whole 30).

What does this have to do with grief and holidays (and could you please hurry up and get there already)? PLENTY. I think holidays are such a wonderful time to celebrate traditions and cultures and hopefully see family you haven’t gotten to see in a while. That said, it doesn’t always feel that way for everyone. For someone who is in the depths of their grief, holidays can bring on an overwhelming sense of dread and isolation. We think about how old our baby would have been, how big our belly should have been if we were still pregnant, what traditions we would be passing down to our child.

Of course, when making plans for the holidays, the answer to everything was “Yes!” In theory, being with loved ones sounds like the best cure for broken hearts. But we also have to remember that everyone grieves differently. I remember specifically not wanting to be around anyone, and sometimes that is still the case. This is when the boundary setting becomes a problem, especially the further along I get in my loss journey. After nearly four years, it doesn’t always feel appropriate to say “no” to something because I’m grieving.  I find myself then trying to make excuses to not do something when the real answer is, I just don’t want to. I don’t know if/when “no” will ever feel ok to me. Because truthfully, it is a perfectly acceptable answer, with no explanation needed. Holidays become tricky because there is an expectation, usually accompanied by guilt if things don’t go as planned. Someone who is dealing with intense grief does not want to “ruin” the happy times for the rest of the family so in order to maintain a sense of normalcy for everyone else, they will probably just go along with everything as planned. And that might be exactly what they want to do. However, if someone in your family is grieving, the best gift you can give them for the holidays is an out. Let them know that if they truly don’t feel up to doing anything, that’s perfectly fine. Offer to drop a meal off for them, or just take something off their (figurative) plate if you can. Maybe offer to NOT exchange gifts this year to make their life easier. Speaking from experience, if your loved one is grieving AND has trouble setting boundaries, these things will be probably better than anything you can buy them. Just taking some weight off of their already burdened shoulders is worth more than gold.

One final thing to remember: your grieving loved one likely wants to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, but their “social meter” may be running on fumes. If you give them an out and they take it, they will still likely feel guilty. Please don’t take offense and if they happen to tell you “No,” be proud of them. Don’t ask why, just accept it. I can guarantee that “no” was one of the most difficult sentences they’ve had to say.


About Lindsey Dell

Lindsey is a mother to 2 angel babies. She lives in Cottleville, MO with her husband Nathan and their 4-year-old Wheaten Terrier, Louie. They are still hopeful that they will have their rainbow baby one day.  

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