Handling grief during the holidays

CULTURE | Courtney Walton | 5 mins

To anyone who might be feeling more sadness than joy during this time of year, I see you. Sometimes Christmas sucks. You are not alone.

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Most of the time, I’m all about the tinsel, trees, and Christmas lights. Those holiday specials with Rudolph, Frosty and Charlie Brown? When I watch them, I’m instantly a kid again. But, there are also times when I would be fine if we just skipped over to the next year. I’m not a grinch; I’m just someone who’s learning how to find joy and peace in a season that’s still marked with loss and grief.

Eleven years ago is when things changed for me. We didn’t know it was the Christmas that would be my father’s last. He was released from the hospital a day before Christmas Eve, and it honestly felt like a miracle after having him gone for two and a half months. It was the best and only gift I needed.

It was sweet having him home, and it was difficult, too. He was so happy to be home, but he was tired. He did not have the strength he used to have, and he pushed through to get to the end of the day, smiling through the pain and discomfort. But he was home with us, and that’s all that mattered.

The next year, he was not there. It was the most quiet and heavy Christmas I’ve ever experienced. In fact, we didn’t even celebrate it that year. No decorations. No music. It needed to be just another ordinary day for us to make it through.

A year later, Christmas was new again because my nephew was born. He brought so much joy and life back to that time of year. Now, with a three-year-old niece, the house continues to be filled with laughter and excitement on Christmas morning. It’s great. But, it’s still hard. My father never got to meet his grandchildren, so I often think about what Christmas morning could have looked like if he was still here. My parents would go out to New Year’s parties, or we would celebrate at home together. I think about my mom not having her person there to kiss as the clock strikes midnight. We used to do cheesy, traditional things, but I loved them. I feel the absence of my father each year.

During this holiday season, I often think about people in similar situations who are without loved ones or are just struggling. Some people are experiencing the holidays in a very different way. A loved one has passed away, is battling an illness, or is deployed. Someone is going through a divorce, the loss of a job, infertility, financial stress, or fighting an addiction.

If that’s you, and this holiday needs to just feel like every other day, that’s absolutely okay. Don’t feel like you have to force yourself to feel something you don’t. It’s your loss, and you have full permission to process that in a way that is healthy and feels right for you.

There’s no formula for your new normal. Part of what has helped my family get through this season is to buck old traditions and get creative. We used to love watching the marathon of A Christmas Story. It was too hard to watch it the year we lost my dad because of the absence of his laughter. The next year, we started a new tradition. If you’ve never seen the movie, hopefully this won’t spoil it, but Christmas dinner is ruined, so the family goes to a Chinese restaurant instead. Now, every Christmas Day, we order Chinese food instead of cooking and keep the marathon movie rolling all day. It’s hands down my favorite part of the day with my family.

Maybe you are reading this and are not suffering during this season, but know of someone who is. Whether the loss was last week, last year, or twenty years ago, remember those friends and family who might be struggling. It doesn’t take much. Honestly, the simple text messages of “I’m thinking about you on this day” mean just as much as the cards, meals, and gifts that my family received after we first lost my father. I have a friend who I think has set a reminder to remember my father’s birthday every year. Every year she sends me a text letting me know she’s thinking about me, and every year it means so much. Set a reminder to remember. Simple, easy, good.

My hope and prayer is for everyone suffering to feel comforted, thought about, and not alone. Your loss matters, your illness matters, your broken heart matters. You are seen.

May even the tiniest flicker of light break through the darkness, and may you know that, in time, joy can return and life can feel mostly normal again.

And may those of you who’ve lost a loved one know that you are not forgotten and neither are they.

Written by Courtney Walton on Dec 20, 2018