Honoring loss at holiday times

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: My husband seems to become ill at every holiday Ever since his mother died it happens more and more. He insists that is not the issue but I have 20 people coming for Thanksgiving dinner and he won’t be doing anything!

A: Your husband isn’t sick. He’s sick at heart. My best guess is that he is suffering from unresolved grief. Holidays are traditionally a time for gathering a family together. If he had a good relationship with his mom, he is missing her terribly at these times. If he had a poor relationship with her, he is suffering from regrets or from guilt about something he can no longer do anything about. Arguments about what he is or is not doing at holiday times is missing the point entirely and probably only makes him defensive. He needs help finding a way to honor those who have passed and turn to the family that is still here.

Many families set a special empty place at the table as a reminder of those no longer with us. Some people put pictures of loved ones in a place of honor at holiday events. Others make a toast to those who meant much but are no longer here. Others make a point to share funny stories and meaningful memories about those who have gone before with the next generation. In these ways, our loved ones are still kept present and alive in our hearts.

I suggest you have a sympathetic talk with your husband. Ask him whether he would be willing to help you start a tradition that would recognize the loss but would also let you enjoy and be grateful for the people you love who are part of your lives now. Once the joy is back in the holidays, he’ll be more able to participate in making them special.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Nov 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). Honoring loss at holiday times. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/11/20/honoring-loss-at-holiday-times/