Many of us know the feeling all too well. The holiday season creeps up on us. Everything is supposed to feel merry and bright, but it can feel like a punch to the gut. You can’t quite muster up the holiday spirit, because something is missing. Someone is missing. A partner. A parent. A best friend. A child – literally lost or simply not in the cards right now. A relationship. A partnership. A piece of your past. When we lose someone, we lose a part of ourselves. Whether that relationship is one cloaked in love and longing or anger and resentment, grief shows up for the holidays and dims our inner light.
I lost my mother last fall, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for my first “round” of holidays without her. Before losing her, I’ve always had a conflicted relationship with the holiday season. Perhaps I was always too much of an old soul and deep thinker to permit myself to simply embrace the excess of glitter and garland that could never quite adorn my pensive thoughts. I found the pomp and circumstance to be excessive; the Christmas Carols to be ear worms; and the egregious spending wildly unnecessary.
And yet after she passed, I put up a Christmas tree…in October. And I have never taken it down. In fact, I changed my tree to a spring tree after the holidays and decided to keep it as a perennial fixture in my décor…because it reminds me of her. One of my mother's greatest joys was stringing lights around my parents’ home, proudly declaring that the colors added life to the place. They were never perfectly curated, but they were beautiful: quirky; colorful; slightly off kilter; kind of like her youngest daughter, if you ask me.
Last Christmas, I told everyone I was "okay." A few of my closest friends reached out to me, knowing that the I already had a peculiar relationship with the holiday season before: the loss of my mom would undoubtedly amplify this. I visited her at the cemetery a few days before the holiday on an unseasonably warm December morning. I sat down on the cold, damp soil that indicated how freshly the earth had been tilled to welcome her to the other side…and I wept. I screamed. I yelled at the temporary wooden cross headstone that stood before me as though it was my mother herself. How dare she leave me? How dare she abandon me? How dare she make me endure the most trying times in my life alone?
As tears streamed down my face and I sat in silence with the very grief I desperately attempted to purge from my body…three white spotted deer appeared. They stood on the perimeter of the grass, their gentle doe eyes watching me watching them. A smile formed across my lips as I whispered aloud, “Hi mom.”
I was decidedly not okay. I was not superhuman. I was not the picture of refinement and grace. I could not contain the overwhelming cauldron of emotions that stir from within when nostalgia meets heartache, and my snot nosed ugly cry meltdown was proof of this. And yet grief is a necessary component of our lives, because it reminds us how to feel human. It forces us to feel alive. It’s a powerfully tangible reminder that our time here is temporary, and it’s up to us to make the most of it. If you sit with your grief and honor it as a part of your person – as a newly spliced fragment of your DNA – you quickly recognize that you can coexist with your pain and still find the beauty in building new memories.
Often when we lose someone, we fear that we may “forget” them. We perhaps resent others for sharing the moments we cannot. We sit and silently ponder every would have / should have / could have opportunity lost. And yet grief is far more difficult for those of us left behind than those we have lost. If I’ve learned one thing over the last year, it’s that our loved ones would want us to exist in the moment. Embrace the laughs. Eat the cookies. Take the pictures. Make new memories…while cherishing the old ones.
The holidays can be a conflicted time for those of us still navigating our grief journeys. A journey that, without question, will follow us through our final days. Be kind to yourself. Be gentle to others. You don’t always have to be holly and jolly, merry and bright. Before you bury the memories or dive into distraction, consider how therapeutic it can be to simply sit and welcome your grief for a while. You don’t have to choose one or the other. You can be joyful some moments and exist in stillness others. You can love the life you have while missing the one you lost. You can feel the magic of the season while feeling pangs of guilt, resentment, or longing. The most unique and wonderful part of the human experience is that we are such complex beings, and our capacity to show such depth of emotion is as much a privilege as it is a burden.
Let’s normalize grief this holiday season. Let’s humanize the experience of being perfectly imperfect day after day. Let’s be more authentic and less curated. Let’s be real with one another. Let’s support each other. Let’s make it feel perfectly acceptable to not always be on top of our game.
I truly believe that there is no beginning or end…and that if you look hard enough, the signs from those who have transitioned to the other side become astoundingly clear. This holiday season, when my twinkle lights start to flicker, I simply smile and say, “Hi mom. I love you. I miss you. Thanks for stopping by.”
** You can read more about my own grief journey in my book "Coffee with My Dead Mother: Lessons on Loss, Hope, and Navigating a New Normal" here: https://www.amazon.com/Coffee-My-Dead-Mother-Navigating/dp/B0BMCY9RFS/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=