“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”A time that is meant to be joyous and warm has crusted over with a thin layer of ice. I realize I am not the only person who has experienced loss. The holidays can be a painful mix of happiness and misery for many of us. But I remind myself what it means to be grateful. I remind myself that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and where there is pain there is also much beauty. If you have lost someone you love, here are five reminders to help guide you through a difficult holiday season.
― Leo Tolstoy
I have not shared a Thanksgiving meal with my mother in over three years. She passed away in January of 2014, and during her last Thanksgiving, I was snowed in three hours away in my house in Syracuse awaiting the birth of my daughter, Sophie. During my last Christmas with my mother she was too ill to get off the couch. Since my mother's death, I have struggled greatly with the holidays, and the entire winter season altogether. Last summer my family's house burned down, and we lost nearly everything inside. This was the home I spent my entire life making memories in. This was where we crammed our enormous family for Thanksgiving meals, and decorated the Christmas tree, and watched Frosty the Snowman, and ate popcorn out of a giant orange bowl that was melted on one side because our family is accident-prone and we never throw things away. I never imagined a life where we wouldn't share holidays in that home, and I especially couldn't imagine celebrating a single holiday without my mother.
― Leo Tolstoy
The freshest memories of my mother are the most difficult to bear. She was extremely ill, bed-ridden, weak, and constantly in pain. But that's how I saw her during our last holiday season together. I don't try to erase those memories, because I do feel they're important. However, I think it's more important to recall the great memories, and let them outweigh the bad ones. Think of the meals together and the inside jokes. Think of the laughter. Think of the cooking accidents that weren't funny when they happened but now seem hilarious. Think of the music. Think of the warmth. No, I can't erase those dark images of my dying mother, but I can focus my energy on all the light she brought to every other holiday I've ever experienced.
3. Remember You Aren't Alone.
Everyone grieves in his or her own way, but that doesn't mean you're alone in your grief. Some days are going to be more difficult. I think about my mother every single day. But some days I am triggered by something as simple as hearing a particular Christmas song or tasting a specific food, and suddenly I'm weeping in my office or sobbing on my way home from work. I never reach out to people, because I assume they don't understand. But they do. We all experience loss. We all need someone to be there for us when the pain comes crashing back. Let yourself open up to friends or family who are going through or who have gone through the grieving process. Even if the loss isn't the same, it's always difficult. You aren't alone in this.
4. Be Grateful.
Sometimes it's too frustrating, too difficult to be grateful. Sometimes I want to scream profanities into the sky and sob until I lose eyesight. It's important to let the pain wash over you, but don't drown in it. I have to remind myself about how fortunate I am that I had twenty five full, beautiful, wonderful years with my mother. Not everyone gets to experience the life I was able to live with her, and I will never take that for granted. I'm also grateful that my mother had the chance to meet my daughter before she passed away, even if it was only for a brief time. I had always hoped my children would grow up to build a strong relationship with my mother, and it was not easy to accept the fact that it would never happen. But in her last days she got to meet two of her brand new grandchildren, Sophie and her cousin Brooklynn. She got to hold them and talk to them and kiss their cheeks. I'm absolutely thankful for that. I'm also thankful for the house we grew up in. It was more painful than I could ever describe to watch it burn to nothing that night. But some families spend their whole lives traveling from house to house. Some people don't even have a home. I'm grateful for twenty seven years of memories around that one dining room table or in that one living room. There is so much to be sad about, but there is so much more to be grateful for. Don't lose sight of all that is left.
5. It Will Be Okay.I don't know when, but I know it will be okay. When I found out about my mother's death, I had to put down the phone and immediately tend to my crying infant. I had to manage life and death all at once. I had responsibilities. But it reminded me that as painful as it is, life goes on. The baby needs fed. I need to get dressed and go out into the world and accomplish things. I need to pay bills and make decisions and move forward. To heal, we must do these things. We must try our hardest to live without the ones we've lost, even though it feels impossible. Even though it feels wrong. We don't forget about them. By moving on, we aren't disrespecting their memory or showing we no longer care. We will always care. Eventually we realize that it will all be okay. We will always miss them, but we will get through this.