Saturday, November 30, 2013

Grief Holiday?

Suicide survivors are supposed to allow ourselves grief holidays, designated time out from grief, as if we can turn it off and on. But more often than respite from mourning, I seem to need release from the obligations of functioning in the “normal” world so I can retreat into my private griefworld. When I’ve tried to declare a grief holiday, it’s meant holding myself together for the sake of others—my husband, my living son, holiday guests—not myself.

This Thanksgiving was a different sort of grief holiday. Our first big home holiday without Noah, it was suffused with sadness, unknowns and ambivalence. How to make room for sorrow at the celebratory table without burdening everyone? We ended up hosting dinner for 10 rather than running away, as we’d been tempted to do. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than being alone or having other hosts set the tone. We went through the usual motions of shopping, cooking, laying the table, and greeting guests, only we needed more rest from it all than usual. After much deliberation, we came up with a short speech noting our distance from gratitude this year as we feel the pain of Noah’s absence. After practicing an early draft, I cut out the words that made me cry; at the meal, the speech felt dry and disembodied. We lit a Mediterranean blue candle in Noah’s memory to evoke his love of the ocean, of France and Italy, and of good food. Everyone readily joined in a toast to Noah’s life, as if relieved to show support. We sat back and let a few lively talkers give the meal a fairly festive air. I was still going through the motions, getting through the day by rote with some moments of pleasant distraction. My husband was unusually quiet; he didn’t want to be there. Sleep fell heavy that night as we crossed from a noisy, normal, peopled space back to our own lonely planet.

Next time, we’ll know not to host. Mourners need to be able to appear or disappear at will, free of any expectations or responsibilities. Rather than a grief holiday on such occasions, maybe we need a reprieve from holidays.

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