The Suffocating Fog of Holiday Grief

death divorce/breakups pandemic Dec 04, 2022

The grief creeped in this holiday season like a thick, stubborn fog.

It all started with a FaceTime.  

 Before the FaceTime

After Thanksgiving dinner, I heard the back door creak open, and I turned to see a friend step outside looking for a quiet spot to call her family. I happened to be nearby on the screen porch seated with my partner and my pups, not intending to spectate. But I found myself with a front-row view of what she probably thought was the most mundane call in the world. I don’t think she noticed me staring

“Hey guys! How is everyone? How were the mashed potatoes? I missed you all!” She smiled warmly at the screen, looking into the virtual eyes of her loved ones.

And I couldn’t look away…I was like a gaper at a car crash. Or maybe I was gaping at my own wreck, somehow out of body looking down at myself. Because at that moment, the fog had rolled in out of nowhere and swallowed me up. I was choking on it.

Maybe it was a three-minute call that I watched. Maybe shorter, maybe longer. I don’t know. I was lost in that moment, completely engulfed by my grief.

In the midst of everyone else’s return to normalcy this Thanksgiving, after years of Covid making everything out of the ordinary for all of us, it hit me that my life would never be normal again after my dad’s death. There was no one waiting for me to check in after dinner. No one was expecting my FaceTime.

I had been thinking (now I recognize how naive this was) that maybe I’d get through this holiday season unscathed, emotionally. I’ll admit that I thought I had earned some grief respite from all the self-work I’ve done in this year of Grieve Leave. I was so excited for a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner hosted by my partner’s loving family. And honestly, I was feeling ok, enjoying the company, enjoying the delicious food…until I wasn’t. After the FaceTime, I could barely keep it together.

"I'm nobody's daughter, anymore." That one thought consumed me, and it’s hard to write down, even now. It kept repeating in my head.

I was already sobbing in the car ride home, my partner somehow finding a way to help me feel loved and supported in my grief while also carefully navigating I-85 in the dark.

The grief fog had rolled in and didn’t roll out for about two weeks. My body felt heavy, like it couldn’t carry the weight of my grief and myself at the same time. I barely got out of bed. I didn’t wash my hair. I didn’t want to get dressed. I didn’t feel up for writing.  

I hadn’t felt like that since the early days after my dad died in 2020. But what’s different today than in 2020 is that I gave myself the permission and the space to feel – lots of snotty tears, binging sad Netflix series and griefy podcasts, and being vulnerable enough to talk about my grief with the people around me. Now, I recognize the power I have in allowing myself to feel it all instead of just trying to power through my grief – i.e. pretending it’s not happening.

In Grieve Leave, I’ve learned that there is nowhere to go in grief except through it. You can’t blow all that fog away, and you’ll wear yourself out trying to huff and puff. You just have to wait it out when you’re fogged in, patiently and gently, and be mentally prepared for when it happens again. Because it will happen again.

It took time and a lot of tissues, but this particularly big wave of grief fog finally dissipated. And now I’m able to revisit those awful foggy thoughts with a clearer head:

I am someone’s daughter. I will always be Susan and Mark’s baby girl, and they will always be my parents. No, I couldn’t FaceTime them to talk about how good the pumpkin pie was this Thanksgiving (the Feingloses have always been big pie people). But my parents are forever a part of me and my memories, now. They’re here with me. And in those moments when I miss them the most (pie moments or otherwise), I can reach out to my community for support: the people who knew and loved my parents, and the people who know and love me.

You or someone you love might be grounded by the fog of grief this holiday season. Be gentle with yourselves and with each other until you can see clearly again.


Grieve on.

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