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Grief & Joy Coexist

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

The holidays can be a tricky time to navigate for many. Personally, it is about balancing the joy with the sadness, embracing the new while pining for the old, and knowing that there will inevitably be times during these holidays when I laugh, when I cry, and permitting myself to do both. A bit of a roller coaster ride and something that needs planning.

We all experience joy and grief differently. One person’s coping strategies may not work for another, but starting the conversations and sharing what works and what doesn’t can be comforting and help spark ideas in others. Here is what I have learned since I’ve lost Zachary.

Holidays will never be the same again, literally. I miss the old holiday seasons. The past Thanksgivings in my old kitchen cooking with my kids. Waiting with Zach for the Westminster Dog Show that followed the Thanksgiving parade every year. I miss the Hanukkahs and Christmases when I made lists and wrapped gifts for all three of my children. I have learned to allow myself the comfort and the sadness of those memories. I sit with my grief and let the tears flow. I also plan and look forward to the traditions that have come in the wake of the old ones, like cooking in my new kitchen with Jacob and spending Christmas in Las Vegas with my husband. Joy and grief can and do exist side by side.

It is helpful to Make a plan – I try to plan well in advance of the holiday season. I have learned that if I have a plan, whether it be who to invite for holiday dinner, what we are cooking, or when we leave town, I feel more in control when I know what to expect. I try to think through different scenarios and how I will handle them as they come up. How long will I stay at a holiday gathering? When will I go holiday shopping? Will I go alone or with someone I feel safe with? Planning helps me to feel safe and in control.

Set Boundaries – It is so healthy to set reasonable boundaries! If a situation is uncomfortable, triggering, detrimental to your mental health, or something you can’t handle this year, it is okay to say no! Those that love and support you will understand. There are so many things that I can’t do anymore, and then there are some things I thought I would never be able to enjoy or experience again and do. I have learned that grief is ever-changing, and some years will be more challenging than others, which is not only okay but normal. Set healthy boundaries based on where you are right now.

Give yourself some grace – It is okay not to be okay, and at the same time, it is okay to experience joy. There is so much up and down during this time of year that It can make me dizzy! Giving myself permission to feel the holiday warmth does not mean I don’t miss Zachary. That has been a hard lesson. Letting myself feel all the feelings, both the good and the bad, has not been easy. I am getting better at it, but it is always a work in progress. Giving myself the grace to be in the moment without judgment is one of the greatest gifts I can give myself this holiday season.

I hope that whatever your holiday season brings, you can find joy in the joyful and have the strength to sit in the uncomfortable and refrain from judging yourself during any of it. Please know that you are never alone. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to 988. The National Suicide Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Wishing you all that you wish for yourself this holiday season,

Francine Sumner




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