Grief and the Holidays

Catherine Hogan

I am at the mall with my friend days before Halloween. Music tinkles through the speakers. “You guys are already playing Christmas music?” he asks one of the saleswomen. “Yes, well the store manager gave us a playlist and here it is. We’re surprised too!” she replied. I laughed, then paused. Thinking about the holidays used to make me so excited as a kid. The anticipation in the air as I looked forward to seeing my family, especially my favorite cousin, and opening gifts on the morning of Christmas Eve with the scent of pine trees in the air. There’s something magical about the holiday season, but when I lost my father freshman year of high school and my brother at the end of senior year, the season became more dreadful than anticipated.

When you lose someone, it is a form of trauma. In my favorite John Green novel Looking for Alaska, he states ““That is the fear: I have lost something important, and I cannot find it, and I need it. It is fear like if someone lost his glasses and went to the glasses store and they told him that the world had run out of glasses and he would just have to do without.” In this case, you have lost someone important to your life. I lost my two favorite people within a span of 4 years.

My family and I settled from a state of shock into a state of numbness during these losses. The holidays became the motions that we went through, something that normal and happy people around us celebrated but was turned into an old and tired routine for us. You never stop noticing the empty spot at the dinner table, or the quiet that fills the room where your loved one would have otherwise filled it. You think of things you want to tell him or her, like “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” and “I miss you and wish you were here to celebrate with me.”

I have been able to survive these difficult holidays with the support of family and friends. They make me feel supported and loved, and I never realized how strong they were until we faced these times together. Often, we take those we love for granted, but having my family and friends by my side has helped me tremendously.

I used to think that ringing in a new year meant leaving my father and brother further in the past, but I realized how much love there still is in my family. Talking to a therapist and psychiatrist have been helpful as well. There are always steps you can take to get closer to healing. People are always willing to listen to you. I love hearing stories about my brother and father during the holidays, because I have wonderful memories with them and talking about them allows me to keep them alive. I know now that my father and brother will forever be in my heart.

I’ve also realized that the love you have for those you have lost can carry you far. It drives you to be your best self, to carry on the memory that was left behind. You’re allowed to be sad during the holidays. I’m not saying that sadness and longing are prohibited. Of course, you will reminiscence about the past years when things were good, but you also must realize that things will still be good, now and in the future. You’re allowed to let yourself be happy, even if people in your life are missing. They would simply want you to be happy. Keep your friends and family close this holiday season. Remember that you are loved, and you are fortunate enough to always have your loved one in your heart and by your side.