The Grinch in Your Mailbox?

Should a holiday letter say how much pain you’re in? Our advice columnist weighs in.

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My boyfriend of 10 years died just over 18 months ago. While we were together, we always sent an annual holiday letter around Christmastime to friends and family. In it we would recount the highlights of our year that we hadn’t shared on Facebook (this was an analog letter, we reasoned) and also our New Year’s resolutions that we felt comfortable sharing.

Last year, while in the throes of grief, the decision not to send out a holiday letter was a no-brainer. But I am thinking about about reinstating the letter this year, in part as a tribute to him and our tradition but also to let people know how much I’m still hurting even a year and a half on. Sure, my grief is not the only thing I have to report, but it has been a dominant theme of my year. In some ways the second year has been harder than the first! But if I were to write a holiday letter. I worry that it will come across too maudlin, too bah-humbug during what’s supposed to be a “jolly” season.

So my question is: To write or not to write?

Write it.

Listen, if there are people out there who genuinely expect that universal unchecked merriment is the dominant experience of the holiday season, I don’t want to know them. Grown ups, and even most children, understand that the holidays can be a complicated time. (Come on: How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Home Alone!? These are not holiday movies without a dark side. And they’re made for children.) The more life experience you have, the more special times seem to be a master class in figuring out how to appreciate either what you have, or what you’ve had, or both.

READ: Holiday Shopping for the Bereaved

I’m sure you’re not the only one missing your boyfriend at this time of the year. If he was a friend of mine, I would be happy to get a holiday update that remembers him and updates me on how you are (grief and all). Not to mention that by honestly sharing your experience, you are, in a way, letting other people know that they are not alone either, no matter whom they might be missing.

Still, the practical side of me does not want you to pour your heart out to every second cousin and former boss in a way that will make you feel over-exposed and vulnerable later. So, keep it short (all the best holiday letters are anyway). Enlist a trusted friend to check out a draft, and tell you what (s)he thinks. Double-check your mailing list, to make sure you’re not including someone that might be better off with a card from the store. And give yourself permission not to send it at all, if you decide that, in the end, you’d rather not.

I’m a big believer in traditions (whether they’re traditional ones or not) and I think it is brave and lovely that you want to reinstate yours as a way of honoring your boyfriend. Get writing; you only have a few days left!

Meg Tansey hails from New England, where talking about your feelings is frowned upon. She has lots of life experience but is not an actual therapist. Meg has a MFA from The New School and currently lives and writes in New York City. Send Meg your questions at (subject: Ask ML).

Please note: Questions may be edited for length or clarity. Modern Loss is not a therapeutic adviser; this category should only be used as a guide. Users should verify the veracity and appropriateness of the information posted on the site with his or her own therapeutic adviser.

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