Grief During The Holidays

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.

Embrace The Journey

Embrace The Journey

Chris Ianni


**Trigger Warning**

This piece discusses suicide and suicidal ideation, and some people might find it disturbing. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please, contact your physician, go to your local ER, or call the suicide prevention hotline in your country. For the United States, the numbers are as follows:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or message the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Both programs provide free, confidential support 24/7.

  “Too Much” – a Drake song that always reminds me of Sean. “Don’t think about it too much” if only I could brush it off so easily…

Before I speak about my personal experience, I want to say thank you to both the Locke family and the boys of 136 for creating this platform and allowing me the opportunity to speak about my ongoing battle with my mental health. I was hesitant about writing this because, quite honestly, I don’t like drawing attention to myself; it enhances my anxiety. Nevertheless, sharing this is important to me. As scary as it is, I hope that writing this can help me heal. 

I went through a battle with Lymes Disease six years ago, one that affected me physically and emotionally. On top of the constant feeling of anxiety and wondering if I would ever feel better, I was slowly slipping into depression. I was too sick to do anything. I spent my days sleeping, trying to eat anything I could to keep from losing more weight, and hoping that one day I would simply wake up feeling normal.

 I missed so many things. It forced me to miss a semester of school, but I missed more than just my classes. I missed out on valuable time with my friends, and being isolated was the most challenging part. As years passed, I began to recover physically, but mentally I was falling into a sinking hole. I was frustrated, lost, and confused. I felt empty. I often wondered if my mind would ever rest. If this is how it was going to be forever, I didn’t want to do this. I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about how I felt because it didn’t seem fair to burden other people with my problems. 

The feeling of desolation became the norm. I simply just learned to live with it. I was never truly myself. I felt like I could never shake that permanent feeling of brain fog. Sure, I had days where my energy felt good, but at all times, I had a ticking time bomb in the back of my head of panic and anxiety, ready to explode at any moment. At times I didn’t even feel comfortable leaving the house; I was so content just being alone sleeping all day. It was where I felt safe. But it was only making things worse. I was stuck. I began thinking about ways to better myself. I saw a therapist, but to me, that wasn’t going to be enough. I started working out pretty regularly; it was my getaway, where I could clear my mind. It felt like a positive step because at least I was trying. 

Little did I know my biggest test was yet to come, moving across the country. I needed a fresh start; it was necessary for my growth. My family and almost all my friends were still back in Delaware. What if something happened? That fear always filled my thoughts. As more and more time passed, I felt like I still couldn’t get over that hump. The constant feeling of anxiety with the daily waves of depression were taking over my mind. I felt lost that I was just going through the motions of this meaningless life. I felt like I had nothing that I was simply just there. Dark thoughts of do I even belong here, mixed with does anybody even care? Where do I go from here? I knew I couldn’t live like this long term. It wasn’t sustainable. 

I’ve never been an expressive person, speaking on how I truly feel. I never felt comfortable doing so. I’ve been so used to holding in all these thoughts and emotions; it became the norm just to bottle them in. Being consumed by and suppressing my  thoughts was beginning to take over my everyday life. I felt like I wasn’t able to entirely focus on things that mattered most to me, and that genuinely hurt me.

That leads me to this very moment today. I had to sit down and do some self-reflection. Days filled with frustration, sadness, tears, sleepless nights, all of which felt uncontrollable. I can’t live like this. I know deep down inside of me that this energetic, caring kid wants the best for not only himself, but for others as well. I took some time to myself to contemplate what kind of man I aspire to be. How can I grow from this and become that person, but also be there and support others going through similar situations at the same time.

The truth of the matter is, I am still struggling this present day. I am still searching for the best ways to overcome this, but that’s ok. I am learning to embrace the journey. I am becoming deeply invested and committed to helping myself. I’m trying to focus my attention on things that will help me grow and be a better person for myself. Nothing is accomplished overnight. Success is a series of small victories. Do you live in the past on certain things which then allow them to dictate your future? Maybe I have been letting my emotions get the best of me. At times my mind wanders and I can’t help it.  All these years of built up anger and frustration inside me, I’ve been letting them control me. But it’s time I take control before things escalate further. We weren’t raised in a culture where it is okay to not be okay. But, you have to be willing to understand that you’re allowed to feel that way! You must live your truth. That includes not hiding if you are feeling a certain way and want to speak up. At first, nervousness and anxiety filled my brain as I thought about this change and entering upon a new journey to find peace.  This is all new and fresh to me, I truly have never just set the time aside for myself to work on self-love. As scared as I am, I’m incredibly excited to learn about my emotions and thoughts. I’m looking forward to embracing this feeling of uncertainty and getting to that place of being comfortable and content with my thoughts and emotions.

I read a quote the other day by Bob Dylan that stood out to me that said, “Destiny is a feeling that you know something about that nobody else does. The picture you have in your mind of what you’re about will come true.” It is ourselves who are in control of our own emotions. Be that person you want to be and start living by that. 

I want people to know my story not because I’m searching for sympathy, rather because I know we are all battling something. It’s ok to be frustrated. But to not be discouraged, but embrace the position you’re in, and trust the process. It will not happen overnight, but that’s the beauty of it. All this time, I’ve been so focused on the future, thinking there was this imaginary timetable when things might be better, that I entirely forgot what matters most, the NOW. I’m learning to live in the moment and trying not to look too far ahead, for I’m causing self induced anxiety over something that has not even occurred yet. I’m learning about different ways to help cope with these emotions. I understand this is a long process that requires daily work, but I’m happy about breaking out of my comfort zone. 

I’m beginning to focus on my true passions and other ways that ease my mind, such as cooking and running. What do YOU love to do? Find joy in things you genuinely enjoy doing. I encourage you to speak out, do not hesitate to express your thoughts or ask for help. Be free with your mind. Do not be defined by the bad days.

Family, friends, humans, we must be conscious of others’ emotions and feelings. We must listen diligently to each other. We must grow together. Most importantly, we must be patient. I want you to know that you indeed are never alone. I understand the pain, the frustration, that feeling of no worth. 

I want to hear your story. I want to talk to you. Whether we know each other or not, I want you to know that I care about you. Please reach out to me at any time to talk about how we will get through this together. There is so much beauty in this life, so much to be happy about. This is only the beginning. There is so much that has yet to be written. I look forward to speaking with you and embracing the journey together. 

If you want to talk, please do not hesitate to reach out to me via phone at 302-367-9967. I know how good it feels to just have somebody to talk to about anything. I promise you this is a judgement free zone. We are living in unprecedented times right now, I understand that feeling of being overwhelmed. Be patient. Listen to yourself. Remember, you are loved. You are incredibly important to me and the world, and I’m both excited yet grateful to ride along with you to find our inner peace.

Say ‘i love you.’

Say 'I love you.'

Allison Burns

Alli Burns & Tara Lauderdale, Brendan Lauderdale's mother, at the annual #BE4B run in honor of Brendan

As a junior in high school, every little thing that happens seems to matter… a lot. Who you sit with at lunch, what you wear and every little grade you get seem to rock your world almost to the point where something happening that really matters seems like it would be too much…that is until something does happen that really matters.

“Brendan is gone”

My first thought after hearing those words, standing in my high school

hallway, was ‘did he transfer?’ … ‘where did he go?’” That is when, at age 17,

I found out that a family friend of 10 years had just taken his life. Brendan was 18, a month away from graduation and ready to go to his senior prom. He was part of a big group of friends, on the football and swim team, had a great family and was an IB student. I was never the closest to Brendan, but from where I stood, his life looked pretty nice.

The truth of the matter, and what I came to realize that day, was that I really had no idea what Brendan was going through, and neither did really anyone else. The week between that day and the funeral were the biggest blur but had an incredibly lasting impact. For a while I was sad, and only sad. It didn’t feel right being happy but at a certain point, I knew I had to do more than just be sad. From that moment I started taking action in my life.

In memory of Brendan Lauderdale 11/29/99-5/2/18

What was I going to do about the future? To start with, I was going to study psychology. If there was something that I could do to one day feel like I was giving back, I knew I was going to do it. So, I came to the University of Delaware and started studying psychology, which was great, but I knew I wanted to do something more. In February, one day between classes, I got an email about a volunteer opportunity for psychology majors. I looked into it and filled out the google form for Sean’s House… whatever that was. I sat on a zoom call with Chris Locke, Sean’s dad, when he explained his story and his missions. I knew that this was as much as sign as I would get in my life, so I decided to take action on it. In my interview to become a Peer Support Specialist at Sean’s House, I was asked what lived experience I had, and I said, “I don’t know if this ‘counts,’ but I lost a friend to suicide and I just need to do something.” I took an unbelievable amount of comfort from hearing that it did ‘count’, and I could start making the difference that I was hoping to. 

What was I going to do about my own mental health? Take action and break the stigma. After Brendan passed, my parents asked me to go to see a psychologist. Although I did say I would go, I told myself, and everyone else, that it was “just because of Brendan”. The stigma I was so adamant about taking action against was the same stigma that I was falling right back into in not being okay with saying I needed help. Moving forward, I was taking ownership my own self-care because it was a good thing! I had no need to be ashamed of going to see a psychologist because I was doing what I needed to do for me; and what I wish I could get the people I love to do for themselves, as well.

What was I going to do about the people in my life? Say ‘I love you’. One of the things all the people in my life know about me is that I always say, ‘I love you’. To some people, they know why it is so important to me, and to some, it’s just kind of what I do. I hope one day, that can be part of the legacy I might leave behind.  Something that I struggle with often is thinking that I know. I know what people are thinking, I know what someone meant when they said that, or I know what someone is going through. The truth that I have found in my life is that you can’t really ever know what someone else is experiencing. I also can never know who needs to hear ‘I love you’. I find myself taking comfort in ‘I love you’ because the thing about ‘I love you’ is that there are no questions asked…it never hurts, and it is never too often.

I didn’t know Sean, but I am beyond thankful for Sean’s House and the Locke family for providing the platform we have here to make a difference. You are all the leading force towards eliminating the stigma and making real change in the lives of so many people. You give so many people hope and the opportunity to recognize their worth, and for that I am so thankful… I love you all.

Photo Credits: Rich Condit
Allison Burns

Allison Burns

Alli Burns is a sophomore at the University of Delaware and a member of the varsity Women’s Rowing team. As a psychology and human services double major, she is passionate about finding ways to make a positive difference in the lives of others.