How to express your grief during the holidays

photo of person writing on notebook

Exactly a year ago, I was in the midst of the first holiday season without my dad. This year was the biggest shock, and honestly, I was still learning to adjust. The Grief Share support group that I completed taught me many things about grieving, and specifically that while I will never “move on” I must move forward. While I was trying my best to do that, the weight of my grief was be oppressive at times, especially with the added stress of the holidays, working full-time, and maintaining a stable household for a small child.

One of the assignments for Grief Share was to write a Grief Letter to friends, family, and co-workers in order to:

  1. Describe my experience and my feelings
  2. Let loved ones and coworkers know what they can expect from me
  3. Tell them what they can do and say that I would find comforting and share what is not comforting
  4. List specific, practical needs they can help with

This Grief Letter was on my to-do list for months, and the holiday season sparked my motivation to share with my family, friends and co-workers in a deeper way. And writing my Grief Letter was one of the best things I ever did for my grief.

“Writing my Grief Letter was one of the best things I ever did for my grief.” 

To describe my feelings, I created Misti’s Top 10 List of Grieving. I also attached the beginning of my “Grief Story” for my loved ones and coworkers to read. This was another activity that was part of Grief Share. I intend on adding more to this story when I feel up to it, and I hoped that sharing this helps my loved ones understand my version of what transpired on July 4th (that letter is in an earlier blog post).

My Grief Letter: Misti’s Top 10 List of Grieving

  1. I apologize if I have seemed a little stand-offish lately: That is definitely not my intention and most certainly not directed towards anyone in particular. I am still trying to navigate through my grief—while I think that I have a lot of good days, sometimes I have bad days. I am sure that can be confusing and at times off-putting to others. I really do apologize if I hurt your feelings if I didn’t have a complete conversation with you or if I seemed really distracted if you tried to reach out to me. It’s not you, it’s me…seriously.
  2. Please be patient with me: It’s been almost 5 months since my dad’s death, and I am sure you might be thinking “why are you not over this yet?” Trust me, I wish I was. But, this is probably something I will not get over—I will just learn how to live without him and to live with “what is” versus struggling with the “whys” and “what ifs.”  Also—it has been almost 5 months, but I really think I was in shock for the first 3 months. I helped plan my dad’s funeral, gave a eulogy in front of a room full of people, and have been helping my mom with many logistics that death entails. In those first few months—I was too busy to even have the irrevocability of this situation settle in. Now, I feel like I am finally getting to the point where I am realizing the permanence of this loss and when I take the time to comprehend what is actually transpiring, it is absolutely devastating to me. So…please be patient if I am still a bit “stuck” in my grief at times. I am working through it, I promise.
  3. I am on an emotional roller coaster: I am the typical “Hero Child” (look it up if you want a good definition of me), and ultimately, I am just longing for the approval of others. I have always been an overachiever who is good at everything, and I want to be good at losing my dad as well. I am trying SO HARD to hold myself together, and to do everything right. To do this, I push things away and then at some point it just builds up into a point where I start hysterically crying. Currently, this happens about once a week. I realize that this is NOT healthy, and I am working on handling my emotions in a manageable way. I apologize in advance if I cry at a really random time. I have probably been holding back tears for hours, and I was trying really hard to not cry, and it just happened. In the event that this happens in front of you (odds are that it won’t since I hate crying in front of others), please hand me a tissue—tell me it is okay, and let me ugly cry in private. Please do not act like I am not crying—that makes me feel invisible or unimportant and/or annoying to you. Once I gain my composure, I will be ready to reengage in our conversation. Just please ignore my puffy eyes and red nose—those will be there for a while.
  4. The holiday season is making me EXTREMELY emotional: Beware: I am hyper-sensitive right now, and I do not handle conflict or stress well currently. I am not proud of this, but because you are important to me, I just want to let you know. Please be really nice to me: tell me I did a good job, compliment my Christmas cards or cookies, or that you like my new shirt and think that I am having a good hair day (if applicable and warranted).
  5. If you are thinking of me, please let me know: Death can be awkward, and especially when someone is dealing with a traumatic tragedy like a suicide. I get it—not many people know what to say when others are going through a loss, and you might be afraid that if you do say something that it will come off wrong or it might not be the right thing to say. From my perspective, I have been rather lonely and feeling like people have forgotten about me and “moved on” or that they don’t even care to know how I am feeling. Maybe you are thinking about me, but you are asking my husband, close family, or best friend how I am doing instead of asking me directly. If that is the case, I probably don’t even know that you asked about my situation or if so, it makes me sad that you do not feel comfortable specifically asking me. The next time you are thinking of me, instead of asking someone else how I am doing or being worried about saying the wrong thing, please consider sending me a text message or email to say “I was thinking of you. How are you doing today?” It is also okay for you to just say “I literally don’t know what to say, but I wanted to let you know that my heart still hurts for you.” If you don’t feel like talking, I always love receiving cards in the mail. And sometimes a hug or a pat on the shoulder can mean more than words can say.
  6. My loss is only one part of my life: I want to interact with others, and my dad dying is only one sliver of the pie chart of my daily thoughts and interests. If you don’t want to chat about my loss, I also like to talk about: TV (This is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, Designated Survivor, Modern Family, Blackish), movies (I really want to see Wonder, and love Christmas movies), Taylor Swift, sports (Ohio State!), books and random current events. I also love playing games like Euchre, Yahtzee, and Catch Phrase.
  7. Do not expect me to make the first move: I know I am usually the first to initiate things (making plans, texting, etc.)  but that has not been me lately. From my perspective, I feel like nobody wants to be around me because I am “damaged goods” or that I am not fun to be around. Currently, it is really hard for me to initiate things with others because I don’t want people to do things with me simply because they feel sorry for me. If you feel inclined, I would love to receive invitations to lunch, a walk or various holiday events. Even if I don’t feel up to attending, I sincerely appreciate the offer more than you know.
  8. I hate asking for help: I have always been very independent and I hate asking for help. Usually, this is because I really don’t know what type of help I should be asking for. So…If you have been thinking, “I wonder if Misti would like help with X, Y, and Z” the answer will always be “Yes.” Do you want to take Blake to Chik-Fil-A so I can wrap gifts? Yes! Do you want to help put our Christmas cards into envelopes and mail out? Yes! Do you want to spend time with my Mom so I don’t worry that she is alone? That would be great! Do you want to invite us to dinner? We love to eat! (Not that I am trying to get you to help me—this are just suggestions if you feel so inclined.)
  9. Talk to me about my dad: I think about my dad all the time, and I would love to share stories about him! I am an open book and I would eagerly tell you about his death and answer any questions that you may have. Don’t feel like you are burdening me if you ask me how I am doing, or if you had a thought you want to share. It probably won’t make me burst into tears, and if it does…so what?! Your questions, stories and dialogue help me heal. It would hurt me so much if you avoid speaking his name (Kendall). There is meaning in my dad’s life and I will find meaning in his death.
  10. Talk to me about you: I still want to know what is going on in your life. I know that I am not special and that everyone is always going through something. If you used to come to me for advice, you still can. If you have a funny story, please share it with me—I could really use a good laugh! If you need assistance with a survey, a resume or anything else—please ask. I would love to help and I would like to still be part of your life. I want to be there for you, just like how you are there for me.

The Result

Writing a Grief Letter was a great way for me to collect my feelings in an effective way. Even if I wouldn’t have shared my Grief Letter, the process of writing was beneficial for my healing. I was nervous to be so vulnerable about my feelings and needs. As I pressed send on those emails, my heart was racing. However, I am SO GLAD I shared!

I received so many heartfelt messages back from my family, friends, and coworkers. One friend invited me to brunch and a movie. My sister-in-law sent me a daily devotional and included an inspirational note. Many friends and family attended a Remembrance Ceremony with me after I wrote my Grief Letter. During Christmas, many people talked with me about Taylor Swift, and my mother-in-law bought Yahtzee for us to play as a family.

“People in your life love you and are hurting for you, and they simply just don’t know what to do or say. And although it takes some active effort on your part, if you want support that is most effective for you, then it is your responsibility to communicate your feelings, what will help you, and what won’t.”

I am a firm believer that people in your life love you and are hurting for you, and they simply just don’t know what to do or say. And although it takes some active effort on your part, if you want support that is most effective for you, then it is your responsibility to communicate your feelings, what will help you, and what won’t. Everybody grieves differently, and you are the only person who knows what is best for you.

If you find this Grief Letter helpful, please feel free to use it as a template for your own Grief Letter. I am praying for you this holiday season.

Fish On,

Misti

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