Recognizing the Grief Within Celebrations

Recognizing the Grief Within Celebrations

Posted by on May 15, 2023

A friend was moving her daughter out of her room at the end of the academic year and was looking forward to having her home for the summer.  My friend was excited but not – she was in a mood, and she didn’t understand what was going on.

There are lots of reasons to be excited, there are likely some reasons to be sad, as well. Reaching milestones in our lives can also induce a grief-like process. 

It is important to recognize the emotional response and understand that milestones can mean loss. Loss of focus on what the task or event was; the idea of feeling sad after a big event or project is complete; loss of a way of being or lifestyle – like a college student with friends and freedom suddenly back under a roof with others; loss of comfort – changing jobs or retiring means a loss of a routine, the people and our identity. 

A few years after I finished my dissertation, I found an article that talked about grief: Coping with Post-Defense Depression. It was a big a-ha moment for me. And I think it relates to many big things, either at the beginning or end of them. 

Why else do we cry at kindergarten graduation? It is an ending of a certain moment in time that we will no longer have before us. Yes, it is something to celebrate, AND it is also something to grieve. 

Celebrations often bring up feelings of joy and gratitude as well as sadness, anger, and fear. It helps if we can accept that these contradictory emotions are part of life: they don’t make us people who lack emotional intelligence. They just mean we’re human beings who are experiencing loss, or other feelings, along with celebration!

How do we recognize the grief within celebrations and milestones? What can we do to support those experiencing it? How do we approach our friends and families with grace, care, and understanding vs. judgment, miscommunication, and anger? How do we find that sweet spot between joy and sadness? How do we appreciate both highs and lows without getting lost in either extreme?

All “the feels” are normal this time of year. 

  • Recognize them for what they are, 
  • Take time for care and self-care, 
  • Live in the moment and enjoy them, and 
  • Take time to reflect once they are complete. 

Patience, empathy, and grace are necessary as we celebrate the change in seasons, changes in lives through graduations, transitions in roles, retirements, the end of a school year, and moving on to the next one. And luckily, cake is part of many of these milestones! When all else fails, eat cake! (In moderation, of course!)