[Editor’s note; this is a reprint of a column I wrote last year anticipating Thanksgiving about Holidays and Grieving. I thought it was worth sharing again-LL]
want to share my own experience of this with you. My young wife of 22 years died at age 42–this was some years ago–the week before Thanksgiving. She passed on Thursday. We buried her on Sunday. Thanksgiving was only four days off. We decided to do nothing more than have a simple dinner with just my parents, my brother and me. I hadn’t left the house after the funeral nor was I watching television, so I was not caught up in the ‘holiday spirit.’ She had been in the hospital for nine weeks leading up to her passing, the endgame of a five-year struggle with cancer. To be fair, we had four very good years between her first surgery and chemo until the cancer came back a year before she died.During that time our relationship deepened, and we took every opportunity in life to ‘smell the roses.” Even during that last year we lived as fully as possible between rounds of chemo until our luck ran out on another holiday weekend, Labor Day.
Columbus Day was the last holiday we really experienced together. Her hospital room was high above the East River in Manhattan, and we enjoyed a wonderful view of the Tall Ships sailing up the river on a clear day. After that she was in and out of consciousness, sometimes comatose, until her death. In those last weeks I was tuned out to almost everything going on outside that hospital room, so the buildup to Thanksgiving was lost on me. Also, our culture hadn’t yet become so craven about “Black Friday’ sales and obsessive consumerism trumping family values.
Here’s what I learned and want to share with you: first, the hardest time is that first year as you cycle through not only holidays but also birthdays and anniversaries. Holidays and Grieving are not a good mix. Each one is a knife in your heart. the good news is that it gets better after that. The second year is significantly less painful, and each subsequent year is better. No matter how things work out for you, there will always be moments of pain. you’ll remember some moment with your deceased love done sitting across a table, holding your hand at a parade, toasting the New Year, but this is not a bad thing, it is just life happening.
For all of you, grieving or not, here is what you should do for those who are new to loss. Reach out to them and MAKE SURE THEY ARE COVERED for the major holidays. Push them to come to your Thanksgiving Dinner even if you have to drag them. Note in your smartphone or calendar their birthday and anniversary, and the birthday of their departed loved one. Call them. You don’t need a pretext. Tell them the reason you are calling is to share their pain.
Don’t hesitate to invite the newly bereft to a festive event. My wife was dead only 42 days when my cousin, Steven, dragged me to a couple of New Year’s Eve parties. I resisted and he insisted. He was right. Yes, I cried my eyes out walking home after the last one, but being among people who were all looking forward and not backward uplifted my spirits.
For friends and family of the bereft, force them to come out; for the grieving, accept these invitations graciously although the thought of partying so soon after your loss is killing you inside. It will accelerate your healing, and you will discover who your true friends and family are.
Originally published November 27, 2013/updated October 24, 2014