Grief and Expectations During the Holidays

The holidays are supposed to be a happy time, but let’s be honest – many of us are grieving this time of year, and it’s not just about death, divorce, or job loss. Everyone has issues, so let’s discuss hopes, dreams, expectations, changes, and choices. 

I’ve heard it said that an expectation is just a disappointment that hasn’t happened yet, and expectations are at an all-time high during the holidays. Hanukkah has started, and soon to follow are Kwanza, Christmas, and the New Year. We have a lot of expectations about who will attend, what it will be like, and what we will do. 

There are many uncertainties. Will everybody be happy? Will we all get along? What if the food turns out or doesn’t turn out right? Many hopes, dreams, and expectations are wrapped up in the holidays. 

It’s important to remember that losing or letting go of a hope, dream, or expectation can be a loss too. Times have changed. Our little kids aren’t playing with matchbox cars on the floor anymore. They’re no longer watching all of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movies on TV. They’re not even in our house. I have three grown children who live in different cities, so the hopes, dreams, and expectations about what Christmas or any holiday will be like for us this year have changed. I can’t go back and recreate the past. I can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future. 

For me, it’s about change – change in some of our traditions and plans. One definition of grief is the natural and normal response to change or loss – the change in familiar patterns, habits, or traditions. Change is a significant cause of grief. 

We don’t call it that. We don’t articulate it or think about it that way, which is why it’s so hard to deal with some of these changes and expectations that aren’t being met. First of all, we don’t even think about it as a grieving situation. We don’t articulate it to ourselves, so how do we share it with somebody else? How can they understand our disappointment? 

The good news is we have choices, but grievers don’t think they have any options. They’re just the victim. They’re just stuck with whatever’s going to happen, and it won’t be good enough, but that’s not true. What is true is that we cannot change what has happened. We may not have a lot of influence or power to change what will be, but we can choose how we respond to those changes and how we respond to those losses. 

For myself, I had to sit and figure out what it is that’s making me feel a little off these pre-holiday days. I finally realized, identified, and articulated that it’s those changes. It’s those expectations that aren’t being met. I can’t change those, but I also don’t have to sit and be the victim. I’m reframing how I will see these next several days and weeks as we go through the holidays. 

Here’s my advice – if you want to take it. 

First of all, try to have fewer expectations. Put your hands up and ride the rollercoaster without expecting what the ride will be like. 

Secondly, reframe how you see things. For example, my adult kids aren’t all going to be under my roof all at the same time playing, laughing, and having meals together. That’s not going to happen. I could be depressed and sad about that, but I’ve chosen to change my frame. Instead, I will get one-on-one time with each of those kids and families. How precious is that? I won’t have to share that time with anybody. My husband and I will have each of those three kids here at various points and times over several days. Not just Christmas Eve, not just Christmas day, but several days when we can enjoy them on our own. 

Reframing has helped me celebrate the holidays in peace. I can’t change what’s happened. I don’t have much power to change what will happen, but I do have the ability to choose how I’m going to respond to it. 

I will be the happiest, jolliest, most in-the-moment person that you will be able to find when each of those adult children comes home to visit or when we visit them. That’s my choice. I get to choose how I make my holidays happen. 

You know what? So can you. It’s not always easy, but give it a try. You can’t change what’s happened in the past. You can’t change what will happen in the future, but YOU can change. You can choose how you respond to what’s happening today. 

Do you want to be saddened and gloomy during the holidays? Not me. I’m choosing to be joyful and reveling in the company and the family that will be here at different times during these next few weeks. 

I hope that’s helpful to you. Change is hard, but we can respond to it more positively and joyfully. That’s what I’m going to do. 

Anne Storino leaning against bookshelf

Hi, I’m Anne,

I help those who have experienced loss open their heart again, recover from grief, and find peace and joy.

I would love to hear your story and help you learn to move forward.

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