Grief and the Holidays

Grief and the Holidays

While outwardly people are going about their business during the holidays, many quietly grieve and feel alone in this unpredictable experience. You sail through a difficult anniversary date or holiday which you thought would leave you flattened, only to fall apart a couple of days later.

Because we rarely speak of it, grief can be a lonely experience. Some friends and family won’t understand, think you should be “over it,” that you are not grieving enough, or are not grieving at all. But there is no “normal” about grief, no right way or wrong way.

I have experienced both sides of that coin, having had a difficult time with the grieving process of someone nearest and dearest to me, feeling alternately threatened and impatient. I have also had the experience of being similarly misunderstood by a well-meaning person who suggested I was sabotaging myself by way of my delayed grief.

In my experience, there is no such thing as delayed grief, while I realize that this concept may be true for someone else. The death of a loved one, even an expected, prayed-for death, to release the loved one from suffering, is a shock. Many experience post-traumatic stress after a loved one passes – feeling frozen, numb, fractured. It is my experience that in such a state, the nervous system is not strong enough to withstand the real feelings of grief – the anger, denial, sadness, confusion.


For ten months after my mother passed, — following a long, hard dying process, which was right on the heels of my father’s death — I was numb and going through the motions of life, but I really didn’t know it. That’s what numbness does. On my mother’s passing, I lost my last relative. It was as if a giant wave crashed on the shore and as it receded, no more waves came. I was holding my breath, waiting for that next wave that didn’t come for longer than I realized. Over time, as I began to blink and look around, I understood that the frozen state served to give me time for my exhausted nervous system to recover.

With the thaw, I stopped remembering the bad things and started remembering the good things – and with that, the feelings started to flow – the sadness, the missing of these parents, the gratitude over all the good years and experiences. Although I was experiencing difficult emotions, I began to feel alive again – with energy returning and a renewed interest in the life to come after the loss of several loved ones.


The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle speaks eloquently of great loss, and I’ll paraphrase from one of his recordings: Where there is great loss, it is as if a hole had been torn in the fabric of your existence. If you can be with the hole, not fight the hole, allow the hole and feel the feelings that arise from the hole, without creating a big unhappy story about the hole OR the feelings – simply being with the feelings, allowing them – then in time the winds of grace blow through the hole. Where there was the pain of great loss and an empty hole, eventually a peace arises.

Many people are afraid that if they allow their feelings to come up, it will be too much, or the feelings will never stop, or they will be stuck forever in sadness and anger. Nothing could be further from the truth. An unresisted feeling is like a wave with a beginning, middle and end. When it is over, there is a relief and relaxation in the body and the mind. With each fully felt feeling restoration takes place.

The loss of holiday traditions which vanish with the loss of your loved one can be another hole torn in the fabric of your existence. In time, something new and beautiful can flow through that hole. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself and ask for help when you need it. If you are struggling alone in grief and would like support, I am here to provide that support when you are ready, so that the winds of grace begin to blow for you. 

Mary Elliott is a Pathwork Helper and licensed massage therapist in New Jersey. She and Carol Day will be leading a new teleclass on the Art of Journaling this January.  You can reach Mary at 908-625-2238 or

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Mary elliott

Mary elliott