The Holidays and Coping With Grief – 52 Ancestors #346

First, let me say that I wish you a wonderful holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Solstice, something else or no specific holiday at all.

This season is traditionally a time of family gathering.

That also means that it can be a time of grief when family members are no longer available to gather with.

I hope you are not grieving. If you are, this article might help. If you’re not, chances are very good that people around you are, whether you’re aware of it or not.

These Past Two Years

These past two years have surpassed anything any of us have ever lived through in terms of death and grief. Yes, I’m talking about the worldwide pandemic, which has now moved from epidemic to pandemic to endemic. I’m of course referring to Covid in all of its variant forms.

Initially, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 was compared to Covid, and also WWII in terms of deaths, but Covid is different than both.

In the US, only soldiers died during WWII. Other people were safe. Not so in parts of Europe and elsewhere though.

Covid infects and affects everyone, indiscriminately.

Now, almost two years in, I don’t know anyone whose family is untouched, and most of us have lost multiple people. That doesn’t count the one quarter to one third of Covid-infected people who recover that carry long-haul symptoms. We don’t know if they will ever fully recover.

The Holidays

Anyone who has ever lost someone they love knows all too well how difficult the holidays can be – especially the first set of holidays following their passing. Everything changes. Traditions cease to exist or are hollow shells of what they were before.

Some people go through the motions for the sake of others. Others don’t have anyone left to go through the motions for. Or they simply can’t or don’t want to.

I get it.

The Tsunami

These past two years have seen the “normal” deaths that would have occurred regardless, PLUS an exorbitant number of Covid deaths. More than 815,000 in the US alone, 5.3+ million worldwide, and rapidly rising.

Add to that the fact that for at least the first year, including this time last year, most people didn’t gather with their families. Even so, the worst Covid spike we saw followed the holiday season.

Since that time, we’ve had a slight reprieve, followed by Delta and now by the Omicron variant which propagates 70 times faster than Delta which, as we know, was more than twice as contagious as the original unmutated Covid-19.

This article isn’t about Covid itself, but the effects of Covid on families, which likely includes yours.

This Holiday Season

Some families have cancelled or curtailed holiday gatherings for a second year in a row.

That alone causes grief. Not everyone who was present two years ago is here this year, and some of the people here this year won’t be here next year. Life simply doesn’t stand still.

The good news is that various forms of electronic communications exist, like Zoom. Zoom has become a staple.

While Zoom is nice, it’s not the same and can’t replace a hug.

The Blame Game

If someone died in 2020 or 2021 from Covid, or has long-haul which causes disability, it’s all too easy to play the blame game.

Did they not take proper precautions and paid the ultimate price?

If you think for one minute death only affects the person who died, think again. Not only is an entire family grieving, someone has to pay for a HUGE medical bill. My cousin is losing her home because her spouse died of Covid after refusing to believe it is real and act accordingly. He left her with a ginormous medical bill after weeks in ICU.

Did someone else not take proper precautions and infected a family member who died? How does the rest of the family feel about that person? How do they feel about their actions? How do people cope with that?

Was someone untruthful about their vaccination or isolation status before a gathering, or refused to wear a mask, transmitting the disease to someone who became ill or died? Yep, that happened to one of my cousins too. Needless to say, that family isn’t gathering together this holiday season.

In these situations, family members not only lost the person who died and are dealing with some level of fallout from that, but may well have “lost” other family members one way or another in the process too.

They may be grieving a death and also angry with the person who died (or other people) because their death was needless.

Regardless of right or wrong, grief is grief and has a cascading effect.

The Walking Dead

These other lost family members are the people I’ll refer to as “the walking dead.” They are still alive, but the family is so fractured that family members have become completely estranged.

I’ve seen this happen over and over again these past few months. Repeatedly. One friend’s wedding caused a huge rift because they insisted all of the guests be vaccinated.

Another friend lost 4, yes 4, siblings and yet other family members wanted to attend the in-person funeral(s) without masks. Big rift in that family now too.

Yet in other cases, the politics behind various beliefs surrounding all-things-Covid has cleaved families clean in half. (Please, no political comments.)

While all of that that sounds awful in general, think of this in more individual terms.

Perhaps this is your brother and his family, or your parents, or one of your parents but not the other, or God-forbid, your children.

How would you be feeling this holiday season, with some family members actually dead, and others among the walking dead because they have chosen estrangement?

I can tell you how you’d feel. Utterly and completely miserable.

Life has changed entirely in the past two years, and it’s never going back to the way it was.

The pandemic may end one day, or enough people may contract Covid or be vaccinated that we reach herd immunity one way or another, or we may learn to live with Covid in some weakened form. Regardless, the accumulated damage and grief will never be repaired

This has not been a pause which we hoped it would be initially. It has been a slow-motion train wreck that’s still occurring.

Estrangement

Studies show that at least 27% of people in the US are estranged from a close family member. You can read about that here and here. Most of these studies are pre-Covid, and I guarantee you that estrangement has increased dramatically over the past two years.

Furthermore, an estrangement with one person often has a ripple effect. For example, if you are estranged from a specific family member who has children, you’ve in essence lost them as well since the parent controls the children.

If you’re a parent/grandparent in this circumstance, this is agonizing. It’s like they died but only to you, and by choice.

Truthfully, I’d be hard-pressed to think of any family who has had a relative that died of Covid who has managed to escape estrangement.

The “I Don’t Care About You” Message

Estrangement says very clearly that one person doesn’t care if the other person lives or dies, literally – or anything in-between.

That’s a horribly bitter pill to swallow – especially if the estrangement was the result of ghosting or unspoken issues surrounding the parameters of engagement, like vaccinations or political beliefs.

And that message is unmistakable.

Fractured Families

This article in Psychology Today discusses the estrangement epidemic with suggestions for how to understand and deal with fractured families.

If you’re one of the more than 67 million people suffering from estrangement, there are tips and hints here for you.

You can also reach out to others. Often, helping someone else who is in need or suffering makes both people feel better. I’ve been doing a lot of that recently and it helps a great deal.

What Can You Do?

The holiday season isn’t just about wishing someone happy holidays or purchasing a gift. Sometimes it’s about reaching out. It’s about a human connection.

Do you know someone who has endured a Covid or non-Covid related death during the past couple of years? Funerals have not been normal and a situation that is already extremely stressful has become even more so with grieving routines and traditions disrupted and family disagreements boiling over. Reach out and make sure your friend knows you care. Invite them if you are gathering. Don’t simply assume they’ve been invited elsewhere or that their family traditions haven’t changed.

Alone, if you don’t want to be alone, is awful.

The holidays are hard enough for some people without all of the additional stressors we have now.

Do you know someone who is estranged from a family member?

Have you heard the phrase “family of heart?” Family-of-heart is who we choose to be our family members. Some of the people I’m closest to are my “chosen family,” my “family of heart.”

Ask how someone is doing, and listen without judgement.

Be generous with kind words. I’ve told many people I love them these past few days. I do love them and I want to be absolutely positive they know that.

Tell people that you love them and how much you appreciate them while you can.

Estrangement Is Embarrassing

Estrangement, in particular, is embarrassing. When someone dies, everyone gathers the next holiday season and talks about how wonderful the dearly departed was. Not so with estrangement.

Estrangement is the dirty little secret no one wants to discuss. It’s painful and there is always the scent of guilt. “Why would they do that to you?” is easy to interpret as “What did you do to deserve that?”

If you can do so gracefully, share you own estrangement story with your friend. Let them know they really are not alone. Estrangement or abandonment happens to good, wonderful people. People who don’t deserve to be hurt. But it happens quite frequently, nonetheless.

When your friend shares with you, be sensitive how you form questions. Questions that begin with “Have you tried…” might suggest that you think they bear the responsibility for not resolving an issue that is not in their power to resolve. I guarantee, they’ve probably asked themselves every possible question over and over.

Estrangement combines betrayal and abandonment and causes the victim to wonder why as well.

I do feel compelled to add that some estrangement is entirely warranted such as abuse. Those aren’t the situations I’m referring to.

Tough Time of Year

It’s a tough time of year under normal circumstances, and this is anything but.

If you have a friend who is withdrawn, depressed, grouchy or just not acting themselves, grief may well have something to do with it. You may not realize they are grieving. They may have lost multiple relatives or close friends in one way or another – and often the loss of the walking dead is actually more painful that someone who physically died.

The person who died had no choice in the end – the walking dead make and continue that dagger-in-the-heart choice every single day.

Grief Never Ends

Regardless the source of grief, it never ends. In time, we often learn to deal with grief in a more productive or less painful way – but that’s not always the case with a series of grief events in close proximity.

Be caring and respectful of those who are grieving, which is pretty much everyone this year, whether they’ve told you or not.

They are likely NOT going to post that information on social media.

Depending on the situation, grief may extend to a job, one’s health or other factors.

Grief can include anything that affects your life negatively.

Gratitude

This has been a tough year for me in multiple ways. I’ve lost more than 9 relatives to Covid – depending on how you count. For example, my cousin lost both of her parents a few days apart. One of her parents is my cousin by blood and one by marriage. How do I count that? Is the couple one family member or two?

Furthermore, I’ve lost additional close family members to estrangement.

My husband’s longest friend died, and that family is fractured too.

Covid, death and estrangement isn’t just an isolated story now, but one shared by almost everyone one way or another.

I’m extremely, extremely grateful for my family members that I’m close to, although my family is shrinking.

I’m also incredibly grateful to my friends and family-of-heart. For example, within the last week or so, one friend has come to help me at least 4 times with something particularly difficult. Then, just this evening, Christmas Eve, my husband and I were included in a non-traditional family gathering.

Perhaps we are forming new traditions this year – ones to sustain us in the future since going back to the way things were in the past is simply not possible.

Wishing You Peace

I wish you peace and joy this holiday season.

I hope you are happy wherever you are.

Personally, I’ve adopted the Icelandic strategy where you go to bed with a good book and eat chocolate. Yep, I have my book waiting here for me, as soon as I’m finished with this article. My 72% dark chocolate awaits too, as does a hot bath, comforting quilts and my three fur-children.

If celebrating is not in the cards for you this year, I wish you a good book, a good movie, good food and lots of sleep.

Please know that I care about you. Let me know how you’re doing!

28 thoughts on “The Holidays and Coping With Grief – 52 Ancestors #346

  1. Thank you for your open understanding. Having a fractured family is painful, and in the past, really embarrassing. Good books, movies, and quilts help fill many gaps.

  2. Thank you for your beautiful article. Really appreciated your thoughtfulness and insight. Just like our DNA we are all so connected. Seasons greetings from NSW Oz. JanBx

  3. Very good post Roberta. My family is fractured and partly estranged and since I seem to be the blame, it has been a particularly hard year. DNA does not keep secrets and my interest and discoveries have upset the boat. Your words helped, thank you.

  4. My family is very fractured, in so many ways, going back a few generations on both sides. I am probably compensating for all this loss and isolation through genealogy. I worry about my children who are down to one family member looking out for them… me and I’m going to get older and older now. (I had my kids at 39 and 41. Their father died and then his family decided they are not really related to them. Yes, money was involved. They “won” because they could hire the team of expensive lawyers.) – Just now, on the radio (CBC in Canada, which is a bit like NPR) they are reminding us that we are not really alone… with many, many people listening to the very same Christmas music, at the same moment. The announcer talked about a “looking at the moon” moment… knowing that you are alone but somehow NOT alone. I am also sad for all the people out there who live in complete solitude, day in and day out. Thank you for your wonderful post that brought a tear to my eye and which reminded me that my work is not done. My children need to learn better how to have a “family of the heart”. And I want them to know some stories about the people who came before them. “…and on earth peace, good will toward men” No hard hearts allowed!

    • Unfortunately, estates fracture so many families. It’s heartbreaking. Your example is the best gift possible for your children.

  5. Roberta you are of the most caring and generous person I know. Your recent article about the Big Y test has been a wonderful Christmas present to me! I’ve have reunited online with genetic Moore cousins and enjoyed learning more about this tool for genealogy research. I believe this will be the gift that will keep on giving. Love your cats and this wonderful post. Merry Christmas!

  6. What a great article Roberta, and helpful in that so many people share the situation. My wife and I have always found that exercise improves our spirits. And I am not talking wearing oneself out in the gym, but simply walking. We might walk 30 minutes or an hour, looking around and trying to notice birds, plants, landscape, home decorations, anything. Simply being outside is a big help.

  7. For me personally you hit the nail on the head and explained estrangement so completely. I’ve followed you for years and can’t thank you enough for all the wisdom you’ve shared. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Merry Christmas ❤️

  8. So much appreciate your words in this blog. These passed two years have been life changing for us all. I get incredibly sad if I dwell on it. Our son and his family has become estranged from us and not all covid related. Although we saw them for Christmas Eve the relationship has changed. It”s not just covid changing my life style, am still grieving the death of a daily connection to a famous personality and the drastic change in politics in this country that have left me very sad.

  9. Thanks for your caring article about grief and estrangement. My family has been touched by Covid and estrangement. Our holiday plans were interrupted by a granddaughter coming down with Covid. She’s doing fine, but we decided we couldn’t have a gathering. I am working on reuniting my sister and my niece. As you know, I stay busy with caregiving; but I also workout at the gym often and walk daily – sometimes with neighbors. This has helped me keep my sanity. I manage to have lunch a few times each month with caring friends, who do a great job of listening. Love you, Roberta!

  10. One of the best thoughts I read in these difficult times. I am sharing them with people I love. Thank you Roberta and I wish the best to you and your family!
    José DiMauro

  11. I always get so much from your articles, regardless of the topic. Your insights into estrangement and the walking dead are exactly right, and very helpful to me. So many people are suffering, it’s difficult to be optimistic. But I like the Icelandic strategy, and the fur-children, as a way of coping. Thank you for your comforting words.

  12. Bobbi,
    Once again you have opened you heart and soothed my soul. Your article was so so true.

    Thank you,
    Kim

  13. Dearest Roberta
    I am sorry we are not related! I keep checking my DNA for sure!
    That was a beautiful & wonderful masterpiece. I know it came from the HEART! THANK YOU! I loved your later experience with your Fur Family. Still laughing, as we also have 2 Fur cats. We built them a Catio, to keep them safe, as we live in rural Tucson. It doesn’t always keep us safe tho, as Kangaroo rats, tarantulas, lizards, scorpions, but so far no snakes can get in their Catio. Naturally they share their catches with us in the house. Love & big hugs Florence Moore

Leave a Reply to Roberta Estes Cancel reply