The bittersweetness of the holidays started early for me this year.
On Thanksgiving, I went to an early yoga class in an attempt to start the day off on the right foot. But after class, as I got my sweaty self into my car to drive home to my family, I felt a familiar ache in my chest. Within moments, I was sobbing in my car.
The grief storm surprised me, though perhaps it shouldn’t have. I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with the winter holidays, and when my little brother died, it sealed the deal—the holidays officially sucked, the memories of happier Christmases taunting me.
When one of my best friends died in the middle of December a few years later, that brought a new sheen to my pain around the holidays. Add onto that a traumatic medical crisis with my newborn daughter that went down on the anniversary my friend’s death, and my body now associates this time of year with loss and angst.
Even though it’s been nearly 19 years since my brother’s death, and 16 since my friend’s, and my daughter is now a vibrant six-year-old, and even though I have a lovely young family who brings new light and love to this time of year, my body still remembers so much sadness.
There’s so much pressure for the holidays to be the best time of the year. The most magical and wonderful. But it’s not like that for all of us, and that pressure can feel like salt in the wound if we’re already struggling.
Over time, I’ve edged closer to accepting the mixed bag of the holidays. Creating new traditions helps. Adding in extra self-care helps. And making sure I’m allowing outlets for my grief helps.
And more and more, this helps:
Believing that the real work of the human heart and mind is learning to hold complicated feelings simultaneously. To feel breathless gratitude for our life and loved ones, while also feeling the deep bruise of grief for those who are no longer here. To pause and take in the beauty of warm-white holiday lights, while also holding the ache of loss for whoever and whatever might be missing from our lives.
It also helps to remember that whatever feelings we’re having are okay. It’s okay to find moments of pleasure and warmth while we’re grieving. And it’s okay to have deep, spiraling moments of heartache even if it’s been years since a loss.
My understanding is that the winter holidays started because December is the darkest month of the year. The trees go bare, the light shimmies away, and we curl inward. Solstice—which eventually morphed into the Christian holiday of Christmas—was all about bringing light and hope into the darkest times.
So what better time to practice all this holding all of these deep textures of dark and light.
I’m wishing you all a heart and a holiday that’s wide enough to hold it all.
How to Survive the Holidays when a Loved One is Missing.
An Open Letter to the Heartbroken through these Holidays.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Anca Luchit/Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman
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