As a mom of two small children, I would argue that the holidays are a magical time of year. For me, it always feels like it starts with Halloween. What costumes should we pick for the year? What’s the best candy to get while trick or treating? Then, we move to Thanksgiving. What sides should we make? Is the turkey better fried, baked, or smoked? It’s a time for family and friends to come together and celebrate special relationships. From there, our family starts gearing up for the holidays. There are holiday parties, decorating the Christmas tree, spending time with loved ones, and wrapping gifts. There are so many ways to spend time with the ones that we love.
But, for some, the holidays can be hard, especially when it comes to feelings of grief. What if the person you love is no longer in your life? Maybe they are sick with an illness? Perhaps it is a strained relationship? What if you are experiencing grief, sadness, or anger?
I’ve been there. Grief is hard.
My Story with Grief and Grieving
From the Best Christmas Gift
For me, I struggle the most with the holiday season and start of the new year. During this season, I received some of the best news of my life followed by one of my worst losses. On Christmas Day in 2016, I found out that I was pregnant with my second child. Our family was ecstatic to be welcoming another baby. As my husband and I absorbed the news while our family members drank coffee and opened gifts, the first person that we decided to tell was Allison, my younger sister.
Despite our five-year age difference, our relationship was close and she was one of my best friends. My husband and I swore Allison to secrecy later that day as we shared our news with her. She was overjoyed that we were having another baby. In fact, prior to learning the news, she was already a proud Auntie who displayed her nephew’s photos prominently on her desk at work and her apartment fridge.
To the Worst New Year’s News
On January 15, 2017, I talked to my sister for what I now know would be the last time. As I sat in the airport waiting to leave home for a business trip, we debated whether or not the second baby would be a boy or girl. We hoped that this second baby would be a girl who would be able to join us for shopping trips and pedicures. As we got off of the phone, I told Allison how much I loved her and that I was so proud of her. Six days later, she was killed in a car accident. Our family was devasted. I spent the majority of my pregnancy grieving and feeling numb. Taking care of my son, our only child at the time, was hard. With the support of my family and friends, I kept going.
Growing With Grief
As we go into the holiday season this year, I find myself being hit with more intense feelings of grief and sadness than I have I felt this year (outside of the anniversary of Allison’s death in January). Allison has been gone for almost three years now. My son is five years old and my daughter is two years old. (Yes, baby #2 was a girl). One of the hardest parts of my grief is that there are moments in time where I see my daughter and she reminds me so much of my sister. Her wild hair, her fierceness, her desire to be independent. In those moments, I find myself thinking, “if only Allison could see this now.” Or wondering, “what would Allison think of this kiddo’s spunkiness and flair for fashion and accessories?”
Practicing Self-Compassion When You’re Grieving
Here are some of the things that I have found to be helpful when it comes to managing my emotions and facing feelings of grief. Most importantly, it is okay to experience the emotions that you may feel when you are grieving. If you experience feelings of extreme sadness or think about hurting yourself, I encourage you to seek out the advice of a mental health professional.
Here are some tips:
- Be kind to yourself.
- Set realistic expectations.
- Practice daily gratitude.
- Talk with friends and family about how you are feeling.
- Take care of yourself.
- Get help from a mental health professional when necessary.
- The Mourner’s Bill of Rights offers some helpful advice for reaching out to others for support. Click Here for The Mourner’s Bill of Rights
Helping Others Who Are Grieving
When it comes to helping a friend or family member who is grieving, there are several things that you can do to help. One of the most beneficial things that friends and family have done for me and my family is continuously showing up and checking on us.
Other things that may help:
- Ask to help and be specific.
- Listen to the person and let them talk without judgment.
- It’s okay to talk about the person who is no longer here.
- Know the signs for mental health concerns, such as depression and suicide. If the individual seems to be having a hard time, encourage him or her to seek professional help.
Final Thoughts on Grief
After losing my sister, one of my favorite podcasts has become “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” by Nora McInery (link to podcast: https://www.ttfa.org/). In her podcasts, Nora explores the loss and grief that people have experienced. So often, we are asked the question, “how are you?” In those instances, it can be easy to say, “I’m fine” when you are really feeling everything but fine, especially when you are dealing with grief and loss. In an interview, Nora shared “[w]e can experience grief and joy simultaneously, sometimes even in the same breath . . . Our hearts are like the Hogwarts Room of Requirement — they magically open up a new room just when we need it. This is where we can find new joy and new love. The rest of the castle is still there. We just keep building new wings.”
If you have experienced loss in your life or are dealing with feelings of grief, my hope for you would be that your heart is able to grow. I hope that you never forget those that you’ve lost in your life or be made to feel like you shouldn’t talk about those that you’ve lost. I hope that your heart grows and that you are able to find joy and goodness in the world around you, especially this holiday season.
You are loved by so many, whether you feel fine or terrible.