Some of us have been dreading Christmas this year.
Seeing the happy commercials on television, hearing people talk about holiday parties and gift shopping has felt empty and foreign. It’s as though the world is spinning around you as you stand still.
There’s the temptation and perhaps the need to put on a face as you see certain people or go to different events, but nothing can budge the grief you are feeling or the dread as Christmas stands immovable, like some strange monument, to remind you, as if you could forget, that you’re without your loved one this year.
I remember the Christmas that spun around me without my participation. My grandpa had been dying of cancer for months, chemotherapy treatments, emergency brain surgery, and marijuana pills for the pain had all led to the night of December 22nd when, with my grandma, aunts & parents, we sat around grandpa’s hospital bed at home and talked about Christmases from the past. I massaged his head, he couldn’t speak, open his eyes, or communicate with us but there was still that sense of him hearing what we said. It was a wonderful night.
We went home late, I was getting ready for bed just after midnight when my dad got the call that my grandpa had died. My grandpa had waited. He listened to all our stories, enjoyed that last night with us, and after we left and my aunts & grandma were in bed, he passed away while Silent Night played softly.
“All is calm, all is bright.”
It didn’t feel that way. It doesn’t feel that way 7 years later. I felt so guilty last year when I realized that I had gone 6 years without seeing my grandpa and that I was “ok” – how could I be ok without him for 6 years? While the truth is that I’ve made it 7 years now without him, and live a healthy and normal life, I am not “over” my loss of him. I cry every Christmas and other times besides when I think of him and horror of the cancer and the beauty of his last night.
Here’s what I want you to know as someone grieving during the holidays:
– This Christmas is going to be really hard. There is nothing that is going to take away how much you miss someone, how much you want them home with you for Christmas. Nothing can fix that and yet SO many people will tell you that there is a fix; that time, love, or family will fix it – they’re wrong. This is going to be hard, and I want you to know that I’m so sorry that it is.
– Say “No” to guilt. If you want to be around people on Christmas but feel guilty, say no to the guilt. If you want to be alone or want to have a few hours in the morning of remembering & crying, do that.
– Create or Honor a Tradition. If your loved one had something special that they did for the holidays, do it to honor them. If you always went and saw a movie on Christmas Eve, do it and maybe save them a seat. If they loved eggnog, have an eggnog toast in their honor.
This year, to honor my grandfather, I wrote this blog. What could you do?
– Reach out to others missing your loved one. It’s never you alone that’s sad, although your loss is unique, there are others missing your loved one as well. If you acknowledge it together, it’s a good thing. So do something that commemorates your loved one and allows your family and friends who are also mourning to join you.
If you are experiencing this holiday season with that empty chair, remember that it’s ok to focus on the empty chair. Don’t let guilt cloud your mind, be honest with yourself about how you are feeling, about what you need, and about the dread or discomfort you may feel at Christmas this year.
Please know that you are in our hearts this Christmas, that we care about you and we want your grief to be acknowledged for the significant pain and journey that it is.
In Memory of James E. Turner
June 28, 1932 – December 23, 2006