I wasn’t going to write about grief and the holidays. There’s a lot out there already, by people much more knowledgeable than myself.
But there’s not a lot out there about dealing with friend grief during the holidays.
Is it different? Is grief just…grief?
The thing that complicates friend grief at this time of year is the same thing that makes the holidays - at least theoretically - great: family.
We are in the midst of several holidays - Thanksgiving (in the U.S.), Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day - that are family/romance oriented. These holidays are defined by family gatherings and traditions.
Many of us take time during these holidays to remember family members who are no longer with us. In fact, the holidays may be incredibly difficult if that loss is recent.
So where does that leave us when it is a friend who has died?
It leaves us…nowhere.
It leaves us with a sense of profound loss, a loss that is sometimes magnified by the lack of rituals surrounding our friendships. Where do we go and what do we do, during this very family-oriented time of year, to remember/grieve/celebrate our friends? And how do we excuse ourselves from our families to do so?
Even those lucky enough to have Norman Rockwell-style holiday celebrations can find themselves in need of time apart from family. So here are a few suggestions, if you haven’t thought of them already:
- Was there a place you and your friend liked to hang out - a park, a café, a neighborhood, a bar? Go out, even for an hour or so, and revisit that place.
- Was there something you and your friend enjoyed doing - shopping at a particular place, jogging, going to the movies? Do it alone, but “take them” with you.
- Seek out a mutual friend: call them, meet them, tell stories and raise a glass in memory of your friend.
It may be difficult, at least the first time, to be there without your friend. But it may be surprisingly comforting. You may feel their presence.
Two years ago, I went to Christmas mass at an Ecumenical Catholic Church (Sts. Clare & Francis in Webster Groves, Missouri), one that welcomes women priests. My friend, Delle, was called to be a priest, but the Roman Catholic Church does not allow that (at least not yet).
I sat in the pew, watching a woman concelebrate mass, and couldn’t stop thinking about Delle. That should be you, I thought to myself, tears overflowing. That should be you. Suddenly, I felt arms around me, as if someone was kneeling behind me and leaned forward (no one was there). And I heard Delle’s voice: “it’s okay.” My tears ended, and I felt a wave of peace.
So, I felt both reactions: pain and joy. And as this holiday season continues, my wish for you is to feel the joy along with the pain, for that is what makes it bearable.