Dear Carolyn: We lost our father this year, and I am dreading the holidays without him. I was closer to my dad than my out-of-state siblings, who are now hosting traditional holiday events that would require boarding the dog and arranging a hotel room for us rather than our Christmas celebration at my dad's beautiful house, a 10-minute car ride from here. The house has been sold and I miss my dad every day.
I am not sure I even want to be there — and I've been told I have to. I don't feel like a party. I don't want to put the dog in the kennel. And yet … I am not sure if staying apart from my siblings this year is selfish, tinged with self-pity and something I'll regret.
— Dreading the Holidays
Dreading the Holidays: I’m so sorry for your loss.
It’s okay to spend your holiday at home, tending to your grief. Do put some local commitments on your calendar so you have places to go, with quiet spaces in between as you need them, but it’s fine if the essential framework of being home with dog, sans family, works for you.
I’m not even sure what to do with “and I’ve been told I have to.” That’s just false physically, legally, emotionally and Christmasally.
Though if there’s an element of worry to it, if your sibs are afraid you’re losing yourself to grief, then that’s something else. It’s worth asking one of them — pick the most honest and easygoing one — whether they’re pushing you for a reason.
It’s also important to parse your regret. Don’t worry about being “selfish” — you don’t owe anyone your presence — but do weigh possible regrets for having missed out. If some sibling time would be restorative, then push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Often you understand this only after the fact — not helpful! — but maybe you can pick up on your mind’s own hints. Are you making excuses to justify not going? Are you hoping someone else gives you the out? Those are my “tells,” at least, when I’m avoiding what’s good for me.
If it’s all just about disappointing others, though, and you’re sure of wanting to be home, then tell them this isn’t a forever decision, it’s just this year. Tell them thanks, too, for rallying with celebrations of their own. That’s encouraging even if it doesn’t appeal to you now.
Hi, Carolyn: My wife has gone overboard for Christmas this year — homemade cookies for every person she's met, it looks like Santa threw up in our house, and gifts for every person you can imagine. She lost her mom six months ago and her dad's health is failing. She was incredibly close to her mom, and we live within walking distance to her parents' house. I suspect she's compensating for losing her mom, but whenever I bring up the holiday overload, she gets defensive and sometimes starts crying. What should I do?
Annapolis: Stop bringing up the holiday overload.
Am I missing something? It’s cookies.
Grief doesn’t respond well to corrections. Unless someone is emotionally medicating with highly risky behavior, it’s better just to give extra hugs, let the sadness express itself and otherwise get out of the way.