Welcome to a real conversation with an unexpected guest:
“Hello, Grief. You were not invited.
“No, I really don’t want to let you in. But there is little choice – since you are already in my head, showing up in my personal space, and we are clearly having this conversation.”
After all, it is the holidays. Sure, we can cancel plans, choose to change every routine and tradition, but the reality remains: there is an unexpected guest.
Like happiness and love, there are times of sadness and loss. Grief is part of living. An unexpected call, knock on the door, or event may lead us into conversations with Grief. The reason may be a loss in relationship, sudden life changes, illness, even death.
Just as with other life events, we cannot control the reason for a visit from Grief. We can learn more about our unexpected guest and slowly become a little more comfortable with their presence.
Recently, a young elementary age girl was struggling with losing her beloved grandmother. Through partnership with a local organization for grieving children, she was given a doll meant to embrace, name, and express her grief. A few weeks later she described how she named her doll, wrote feelings on the doll, and then put the doll under her bed. She likes her doll being there for now because she is not ready to look at her or the feelings she represents.
While some of us may not have a “feelings doll” to accompany us through the many emotions of loss, we may try to find a neat hiding place for Grief. The reality is, she knows where the doll is hiding.
When coping with the loss of my mother a few years ago, I discovered so many of my father’s items still in her room. The tokens of my parent’s life are difficult to categorize or neatly organize without strong emotions and uncertainty. The weight of their absence grew heavy when sorting through their precious items. My sister and I created a “not yet” box. It was too soon to decide, so we paused, shared memories, laughed, and shook our heads at many of our parent’s antics while filling the box.
Grief is always present, whether under the bed, in a closet, drawer, or in a box. The “not yet” box or a feelings doll under the bed are temporary. Inviting Grief into the open is an act of courage, patience, and compassion for yourself and others.
Based on my tradition of Southern hospitality, it is important to offer a few tips on how to host the unexpected guest of Grief for the holidays. Go with what you already know about hosting a guest:
- Make a cup of tea, coffee, or cold drink.
- Invite someone else over – no need to host Grief alone.
- Remember what made you smile or laugh when you were with your loved one.
- Share a few good stories.
- Watch a favorite movie or listen to a beloved song.
- Learn to take long pauses and sit in silence.
- Tears are the language of the heart, let them speak, too.
Each visit with the unexpected guest of Grief is an opportunity to learn a little more about yourself. The time together begins to shift – from the details at the time of loss, towards the present. The raw emotions, pain, and sorrow become lighter.
The truth is Grief will become a regular visitor. The conversation will also become more comfortable. New ways of talking, thinking, living, and loving ourselves and others will also arrive. Until then, go ahead and open the door. Sit down, pull out the “not yet” box or feelings hidden away, and get to know more about yourself and others while visiting with Grief. The holidays can be awkward, but if you make some room, joy will also come knocking on your door.
Rachelle Brown, MDiv
Bereavement Coordinator and Chaplain
Heart of Hospice, Acadiana