Holidays after a major loss are messy. There are so many things to disentangle. Holidays and family gatherings are emotional under the best of circumstances. And a holiday gathering after loss is so far from the best of circumstances that I’m inclined to say it verges on the paranormal. Well, not really, but it sometimes feels like that.
It is both a space with established rituals and one that is completely new and foreign. There are bound to be missteps. There will likely be tears, either visible or suppressed. And it’s possible that the act of having to figure out how to do this ‘one more thing’ will push someone so far out of their comfort zone that angry words may erupt; Anger, of course, being a safer emotion to express than sadness, pain and sorrow.
Perhaps the place to start is to agree that all these things and more are possible. To acknowledge that Christmas, or whatever holiday is being celebrated has been irrevocably changed by loss, and will forever more be different than it used to be; And that the very act of figuring out how to enjoy these days will be challenging.
It’s hard to remember when we are grieving to accept all missteps and moments of discomfort as learning lessons and opportunities to stretch our compassion and kindness muscles. But, I know of no other way to build new good memories than to consciously come together and wade through the emotional messiness with all its gore and glory. This can only be tough, especially in the beginning. But it is the way to move forward.
As broken as I was, there was a part of me that also knew that when I was in this space that I was supported by others who loved me and that they too were hurting. I could also see (well maybe not in that first year) that they too were struggling to figure out how to reassemble these ‘coming togethers.’* And looking back today, it is, of course, pretty obvious that we were all doing our best to endure. Isn’t hindsight a lovely thing? And because of this hindsight gifted to me by, yes, major loss, I’m now in the position to remind others that as challenging as these days were, especially in the beginning, that by the time Christmas rolled round that first year that I had already lived through far worse. This holds true for everyone who has had a major loss. So as discombobulated as the holidays may be, this is still a better place. Hold on to this thought. And though it may feel like one more thing we need to survive, know that it is in surviving these days and being present to all that comes with them (including messiness) that we are able to create a space for new joy to appear.
* I do know there is no such word as “coming togethers.” But, we can’t really call these days ‘festivities’ especially in the early years. Words like occasion or event don’t seem right either. So I’ve opted for ‘coming togethers.’ It somehow seems more accurate. If you like it, feel free to use it.