I wish I could say that there is a recipe to healing and enjoying the holidays without those you love who should be with you.
For me getting through meant having to disconnect from social media on Christmas and any holiday really. I know for some the opposite is helpful for them to get through- connecting. For me the connecting I needed expanded over time. For the first few years after I was comforted by close connections. For me Christmas was hella triggering. Our Christmas decorations and tree stayed boxed up for years before we were all in a place to take it out. I flowed in and out of being bitter that other people were celebrating unaffected and these were the cards I was dealt – to be honest.
Connection & Self Awareness
I often find myself having these conversations/check ins around anniversaries and holidays with one of my best friends in particular who also has experienced parent loss. We always remind each other that our body senses those times and/or specific date even when our minds become busy with other things. Time really does go by fast. It’s an alarm that sounds all throughout your body reminding you of the sounds, smells, feelings and state of mind you were in when experiencing a loss or trauma. This wasn’t always true- in the first year or two I was in this state constantly.
A lot of my trauma began around the holiday season. I was in the 10th grade when the ambulance would come to my house for the second time the week of Christmas and bring my dad to the hospital. He would never come back to that house. Earlier this year I cried throughout an entire therapy session because I was so overwhelmed with emotion admitting that I forgot the exact day that my dad was picked up by ambulance that year. Overtime I noticed that my mind has blocked out certain details that I can’t remember but were so life changing. Trauma has a way of impacting so much including our memory all as a means to protect us.
Surrendering When You're Ready To
We experience an indescribable shock and denial when things are changing. I know for me, I wished for years that things would go back to how they were when my dad was well and alive. I waited for years refusing to give up on this idea that we would all be together. It became all or nothing. We found our way to peace through exhaustion from trying to fight reality. Exhaustion, fear, sadness and grief led to a lot of nights falling asleep in hospital waiting rooms, sitting in our family room in a comfortable silence unbothered as the time escaped us, days of having to problem solve issues that we’d go to my dad for and having to participate and get passed along to various school, family and work events because everyone’s life was going on including celebrations. We kept going and the only good part of that was getting exposed to seeing genuine happiness from people we loved and someday wishing that again for ourselves. Surrendering was a hard place to get to because for so long I felt that if I did that then that would mean I was okay without going on without my dad. I compartmentalized heavy.
Don’t Rush Or Push Past the Feelings
It was hard. I remember taking each day at a time. It was so heavy- the weight of it all, my body was too exhausted to even think ahead to the next day. We were in survival mode for years. Even thinking about the discomfort in those years after my losses is bittersweet to reflect on because getting to where I’m at now seemed impossible. I remember staying up crying and wishing for a sense of peace in my life for so long- the pain was so overwhelming. I went from crying at the end of these holidays when I knew I’d be alone to sharing my feelings with my friends on these days to talking about it in therapy to now mentioning my dad and memories of him more often during these times with my family. Quite plainly, when holidays and events came around it made me more aware of his absence. It still does. The only thing that’s changed it how I let the feelings flow – more openly now.
That Consistent Source Of Support
The things that remained the same and that I know for sure, is that through all of that discomfort and processing of my feelings as life continued before my eyes was that my brother and sister were beside me through it all. That consistency of having them with me saved me and made those holidays easier to get through because I knew they were feeling the exact same thing even without telling me. For you, that may be a close family member, friend or someone in your community or the grief community that you can connect with and know that they’re there for you, even when words escape you.
Staying Hopeful That Someday You Will Find Peace, It Doesn’t Have To Be Today Or Tomorrow
I began to want the things I had seen others around me have. Years after losing my dad I forgot what it was like to feel happiness around the holidays. It was another day. I would stay off of social media and limit myself from seeing or being a part of more than I had to because it simply was too hard to.
We found our way back on our own terms.
We connected to things that we enjoyed and got to them at our own pace. Even as the time passes, we come back to the things that have gotten us through for all of those years whether we were in a hospital waiting room or a dinner table set in front of a Christmas tree, we got through.