How To Deal With Grief During The Holiday Season


Advice for those who are sad during the most wonderful time of the year

My father died when he was just 29. He suffered a concussion after falling from a ladder while doing construction work near our apartment in the projects of Queens, New York. He was only in the hospital for a short time before dying. This was 1997; his death left my brother and me without a father, and my mother without the love of her life.

I was only two years old, and though I couldn't yet say the word “dad," I spent the next 20 years of my life wondering what it would have been like to have the chance to say it just once, to feel the weight of it on my tongue. The yearning left me searching for him in different men I met, in poems I wrote, in food I ate either way too much or too little of, and even in myself on those days when I felt completely despondent. It wasn't until I got to college that I began seeing a therapist regularly—something I continue to do today. 

My father was born in December and died in November, which makes the holiday season exceptionally difficult for me and my family. While we often reminisce about happier memories we shared with him, we rarely ever discuss his death and the amount of pain it continues to cause us. Some years, that elephant in the room is tiny like a pea. Other years, especially this one which marks the 20th anniversary of his death, the elephant is life-size, taking up all the space in the room, suffocating us all.  

Experiencing immense feelings of grief and loneliness during the holiday season, a season that is supposed to spread cheer and encourage quality time with loved ones, can be confusing. But after speaking to Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin, a professor in education and counseling and researcher at Bradley University, and Dr. Pilar Jennings, a psychoanalyst, I learned that my feelings of increased grief, confusion, and shame are not out of the ordinary. 

“If you’ve had exciting memories related to the holidays as a child, you are likely to look forward to the holidays,” Russell-Chapin tells me. “If you have horrible memories related to the holidays, you probably don’t look forward to them. We need to practice anamnesis, which is taking the best of our past with us and leaving the bad parts behind us.”

Jennings adds that the “holiday season is a time ripe for fantasy. Whether or not we’ve had the good fortune to have a close and loving family, there’s invariably a part of us that longs for this—a sense of belonging, of having people we love and are loved by, and the trust that our most important bonds are sustainable. For this reason, the holidays for many people have a slightly haunting quality." 

She adds, "This fantasy is, of course, reinforced by a culture that inundates us with images of happy and beautiful families coming together, giving each other exactly what’s needed and wanted and enjoying a closeness readily offered. The implicit message is that this is normal. What a bind for folks who, simply by nature of being human, have experienced many difficulties and challenges within their families, some of them insoluble." 

"This gap," she continues, "between what most cultures propose as normative and what so many people actually experience, can feel both depressing and shameful. And if the gap is subtle—say a family is basically loving and kind—even this can be cause for shame. A person blessed to have such a family might suffer feelings of ingratitude when they are bothered by the subtle complexities that invariably show up during any family gathering."

Everyone deals with suffering differently. Throughout my early to late adolescence, I isolated myself from family and friends in order to better keep my anger and sadness at bay, careful not to infect others with my venom-like pain. But being alone isn't always a viable solution, even if it makes you feel better. "It’s tough to be social when you’re feeling devastated," says Russell-Chapin. "But it’s critically important that people suffering from severe loss have various forms of non-judgmental care and support. This can include friends who bring food and other necessities, colleagues who can step in to manage work responsibilities or commitments, and clinicians who can help begin a process of working through and eventually recovering from the loss."

But Jennings adds that if you find being around others to be overwhelming, there are productive ways you can cope in solitude: "If you’re feeling too raw to risk human contact, find a good podcast and some guided meditations to help you feel a sense of comfort. Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, and many other spiritual teachers have excellent talks and meditations online that will help your nervous system begin to decompress. Even a simple five-minute mindfulness meditation might just help you feel a little less broken, more contained, and, even if for just a few minutes, at peace."

For those suffering from a traumatic loss, Jennings advises seeing a therapist. "While meditation and yoga will help, if you’re going through a serious loss—a child, or parent, or any shocking death of a loved one—clinical support is needed. Psychotherapy can be a way to feel heard without having to worry if what you’re talking about is too much for others to hear. A good therapist will be able to listen with an open mind and heart to whatever you’re experiencing, and may also be able to help you begin to digest and eventually accept what’s happened." 

But regardless of the magnitude of the loss you have suffered, the most important part of all is to remember to take all the time you need. When I was growing up, many people told me I was "lucky" to have lost my father at an age where I hadn't yet built memories with him, and for a long time, I believed it. I thought I was stupid for feeling so much pain over someone I barely knew; I began to harbor an intense amount of shame for feeling remotely sad about anything. This silencing caused me to crawl inside myself instead of reach out for help when I needed it the most.

The bottom line is that, regardless of age, intimacy, or experience, loss is loss. It changes you, breaks you, haunts you, sometimes for the rest of your life. That idea, albeit scary, can very well be the first step towards acceptance and coping. 

"Grief and mourning are complicated feelings, and they take time. No one who has ever suffered a serious loss recovers quickly," says Jennings. "We, humans, have an extraordinary capacity to love, and when we lose our loved ones, it can feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves. Our very sense of self is likely to feel radically altered. Getting to know ourselves without our beloved is not a fast process. And the intense feelings that come with loss will require plenty of time to be survived and understood. If by the second or third year you’re still feeling awful and torn apart, it’s okay."

And you will be okay. 

Photo by Imani Givertz

Premiering today via NYLON

Small Talks, aka Cayley Spivey, has come a long way since starting a band, then becoming the entire band herself and forging her own fan base from the ground up. On her recent album A Conversation Between Us, she began to unpack any lingering baggage with one particular song: "Teeth." Today, she premieres the accompanying music video exclusively via NYLON.

"'Teeth' is about my personal battle with letting go of the past," Spivey tells NYLON, admitting that it's easily her favorite song off of A Conversation Between Us.

Watch the video for "Teeth" below.

Small Talks - Teeth (Official Music Video) - YouTube

Photos by Joe Maher/Getty Images, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TIME

Must have been pretty awkward

Taylor Swift and Sophie Turner were guests on the U.K.'s The Graham Norton Show together, which must have been awkward for Turner's husband, Joe Jonas, seeing as he also happens to be Swift's ex. I wonder if his name came up?

The interview doesn't come out until Friday night, but promotional photos show the two sharing a couch. Swift is making an appearance to perform her new single, "ME!" while Turner is promoting her new film, X- Men: Dark Phoenix. But it seems necessary for the two to be asked about Jonas.

Swift was just on the Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month, where she brought up the fact that she felt bad for putting Jonas "on blast" on DeGeneres' show back in 2008 by telling the audience that he broke up with her in a record-setting short phone call. But, according to Swift, she and Jonas are chill now, since it happened pretty long ago, which means she's probably already hung out with Turner and maybe even gossiped about him with her.

We can only hope that they get the chance to spill some tea on television.

Screenshot via YouTube, Photo Courtesy of HBO

"That's! His! Auntie!"

Leslie Jones has rewatched the Game of Thrones finale with a beer in hand, Seth Meyers at her side, and a full camera crew ready to take in all her glorious reactions. Spoilers ahead, but, if you haven't watched last week's episode already, that's kind of on you at this point.

When Jon Snow started to make out with Daenerys, also known as his aunt, only to stab her through the chest moments later, it was emotional whiplash for everyone watching. And, Jones' reactions—both from her first and second viewing—sum it all perfectly.

"That's! His! Auntie! [gagging noises]," Jones says before making an aside about calling the police if her uncle ever tried to do the same. But then the knife goes in, and Jones screams. "Did you see that?!" Jones asks, "Yeah bitch, that's a knife in you." Meyers points out the funniest part of all: "Why are you so upset about someone kissing their aunt but totally fine with someone killing their aunt?" Jones replies, "Because that bitch needed to go," and, well, same.

Other highlights from the comedians' rewatch include comparing Dany's victory speech to a bad improv gig, predicting that their dogs would have less of a reaction to their deaths than Drogon did to his mother's, and more.

Watch all of Jones' reactions from this Late Night clip below.

Game of Jones: Leslie Jones and Seth Watch Game of Thrones' Series Finale

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These lyrics are a lot

Robbie Tripp, aka Curvy Wife Guy, is back with a music video, titled "Chubby Sexy," starring his wife and a trio of models. In it, Tripp raps about his bold choice to find women with an average body size attractive.

The video begins with a series of statements laid over some pool water: "Curves are the new high fashion," "Chubby is the new sexy," "We Out Here." Tripp posits that these queens deserve an anthem, which they do. What they do not deserve is this Cursed Song. As he lists all the names he knows to call them by (thick, thicc, and BBW), one model (who I really, really hope was paid well) squirts some lotion down her cleavage, and Tripp begins dancing.

"My girl chubby sexy/ Call her bonita gordita," Tripp states in his chorus, before going on to compare "big booty meat" to the peach emoji. Another thing he mentions is that his wife can't find a belt that fits her waist, and that's why he calls her James and the Giant Peach. He then tries to dab. Here are some of the other Cursed highlights from his, uh, verses:

Got those Khaleesi curves/ Knows how to dragon slay
She like a dude that's woke/ We like a girl that's weighty
Some say a chubby girl that's risky/ But they ain't met a curvy girl that's frisky
Imma dunk that donk like I'm Andrew Wiggins.
Thick like an Amazon/ Built like Big Ben.

Tripp says one thing in the video that I couldn't agree more with: "She don't need a man." No, she does not. Please run. If you must, watch the entire video, below. Or send it to your nemesis!

Robbie Tripp - Chubby Sexy (Official Music Video)

Photo by Emma McIntyre / Getty Images.

See the promo here

It was bound to happen. The Kadashians and Jenners have committed themselves to letting the cameras roll on their lives, for better or for worse. So if you thought that the Jordyn Woods and Tristan Thompson cheating scandal was off limits, you thought wrong. The trailer for Sunday's episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was just released, and it involves the famous family working through the fallout of what happened when Woods went to a party at Thompson's house.

The teaser includes the infamous clip of Khloé Kardashian screaming "LIAAAARRRRRR." It's still not explicitly clear who prompted that strong response. She could be responding to Thompson, who clearly isn't always honest. Or she could be reacting to Woods account of the events on Red Table Talk. But the most revealing moment comes when we see Kylie Jenner—who was Woods' best friend before all of this happened—react for the first time.

In a heart-to-heart conversation, momager Kris Jenner says, "For you and Jordyn, it's like a divorce." Kylie only offers this in response: "She fucked up." Based on Woods' version of events—which I'm inclined to believeThompson is the one who fucked up. Still, I'm hoping for some kind of reconciliation between the two longtime friends. Perhaps we'll have to wait until next season for that.

Check out the promo video below.