Remember those Thanksgiving days, when you were a kid, and just after the giant meal was over, Uncle Bill or your dad or Grandpa Joe, or all three or more , would sit in the living room on the couch and recliner chairs, and proceed to unbutton the top button of their pants so they could breathe better? Or that feeling you got after eating ninety pounds of stuffing, turkey, and pumpkin pie - where your stomach felt like it was going to explode from being so full, and so you had to just sit in place and veg out on the couch for the next two days while watching endless football games? Remember that?

The "thanksgiving hangover. "


Well, now, in this widowed version of life, there is a different kind of hangover that happens after each and every holiday, or even any big event or gathering, where you've just done something social, and now you are returning home. 

The "grief hangover." 

The grief hangover is similar to the Thanksgiving one, in the sense that you feel bloated and absolutely exhausted. Except instead of unbuttoning the top button on your pants to let out some air - you are unbuttoning every button on everything inside of you, to let out every complex and pent up emotion that's been floating around in there. 

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. I decided that instead of sitting home by myself (because my parents and family are 4 hours away and I couldnt get there for the holiday), I would accept the invite to go and spend it with my good friends and their family. We had a very nice day. Great food. Great company. Our host and hostess even showed off the results of their dance lessons and did a Rumba for us, and my friend Dave (host) and his 10-year old son, improvised a father-son jazz duet on piano and trumpet, as we waited for the turkey to cook. It was a lovely day, despite the inner-sadness that lives inside me, resting in my bones and missing my husband always.

And then I got home. 

Empty apartment. 


The echoes of nothingness ringing through the walls. 

Nobody to talk about the day with. Nobody to dissect everything that happened, or gossip gently about the people in attendance. Nobody to lie on the couch with and put my feet and legs in their lap as we settle down to a night of relaxing and de-stressing. Nobody to eat leftovers with, or to make turkey soup for. Nobody to sit around and do nothing and de-compress with. Just nobody. 

And it doesnt matter if you currently live alone, have children, dont have children, have a roommate, live with relatives, whatever. Because if you are alone in your home after just having had a nice time somewhere, then the absence of your person who is dead, echoes inside that silence , that hollow sound of nothing, that follows everything you say.

And if you AREN'T alone in your home after just having had a nice time somewhere, then the absence of your person who is dead, echoes inside every word spoken by others, every sound - because all those sounds and words, are not the words of your person, and they never will be again. 

So you just sit. You cry. Or you are way past crying, and the crying doesn't come, so you stare blankly and you feel bloated and sickened and bored by grief. If your loss is new still, then the grief still terrifies you. The pain that comes from the grief is frightening, because each time it happens, you think in all sincerity: Im going to die. This pain will absolutely kill me. How can anyone possibly live and stay alive while being in this much pain? And then the pain happens again and again and again, and you start to realize that you are not going to die from it, but that it's worse than that. You have to figure out how to LIVE with this pain. Because it keeps happening. The hangovers keep coming. 

When it has been a few years since your loss, as it has been for me, the grief triggers and attacks and hangovers happen, and you expect it. You start to learn and know and become familiar with what this is, and so you realize that when it happens, you just have to ride it out. It almost becomes a bore after awhile, something you hate dealing with because you know there is no way out except through. And even though you know this, its a pain in the ass to go "through" it each time, but you do, because what else can you do really. So you sit inside the hangover, and you let it play out, and then you continue on with your life, until the next one happens. 

Some hangovers hit you harder than others.

Some you still dont expect to, even with all your knowledge of grief. 

And some knock you down for days at a time, tricking you into thinking you are now going backwards. 

But really, truthfully, there is no such thing. 

You can never go back to where you were. 

Not in life, and not in grief. 

You can't unknow what you already know. 

(as my wise widow friend Michele says) 

Grieving will not end. 

Nor will Love. 

Try to embrace them both.

Let love in, again and again. 

And let the hangovers of grief, when they come, wash over you like flooding rain. 

For that is the cost of 

Great Love. 

Showing 4 reactions

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  • Vartan Agnerian
    commented 2019-11-29 20:06:17 -0800
    So well explained Kelley ’ and in only two words’ " Grief Hangover ", all those profound emotions of sadness’ confusion’ depression’ longing’ brokenness’ tearing for no reason’ going about just like a robot’ wandering aimless through the days’ doing chores mechanically’ and realising everything has become meaningless ’ no matter the group’ no matter the occasion’ disbelief that I am indeed the widow among all’ and there’s no going back’ …….. Laura’
  • Cathy
    commented 2016-11-25 18:47:52 -0800
    Yep, “no way out except through”. As much as I prepare myself, year after year the holidays just suck. The day itself is ok, but all those days leading up to it, and then after… hard to explain to family and friends, but I know I can come here and you all understand. And now we have the month of December to get through. Breath deep and let it go. Thanks, Kelley.
  • Marybeth Hotaling
    commented 2016-11-25 17:59:59 -0800
    As I began to read this I realized that this was exactly the phrase that expresses what I’ve been feeling all day . And as I continued to read I recognized this feeling as I’ve had it many times after returning home alone once again. I like the point of embracing it as part of embracing the love. Thank you for giving words to the feelings. Marybeth
  • Judy Kaan
    commented 2016-11-25 11:17:00 -0800
    Yes yet again – you write just how I’m feeling – even from your first sentence – Uncle Bill. My Uncle Bill died in the beginning of October (my moms brother – her best friend). So not only was I dealing with my grief, but my mom’s grief. It was a very quiet Thanksgiving for me. Just me and my parents. Yes I am very grateful for them. But it is still so hard. Early in the day I was fine – since I was helping my mom prepare. But when the turkey was cooked – I missed Justin trying to get an early piece of the turkey and help with the carving etc.

    The Grief Hangover is right there – no one to talk to, no one to share leftovers or joke with about what someone said.

    Thank you again Kelley for writing this piece, letting me know that I am not alone in dealing with this for 5 years.

    ""Cost of Great Love"