You spent months planning the perfect Christmas full of gifts that were handmade,
local, or encouraged creativity. Your daughters went to bed Christmas Eve and you carefully arranged their new easel with a handwritten note from Santa himself, children’s museum membership, a doorway puppet theater, and endless packages of simple art supplies and handmade games. Then, you went to bed.
Christmas morning was magical. You remember everything about that Christmas in 2012. It was your last ‘normal’ Christmas. Unfortunately, you remember the next day even better. The screaming. The crying. Yelling at your husband to rip down all the decorations when you received the call that your brother, just 2.5 years older than you, passed away completely unexpectedly Christmas night.
Growing up you were defined by being the youngest and only daughter with three amazing older brothers. Now, as an adult, you feel defined by the loss.
For the next week you allowed yourself to fall apart in the safety of your childhood home. But days later you learned that your emotional roller-coaster had just begun and you now had all the hormones of an early pregnancy to deal with. You feared how your pregnancy would be affected by being so emotional and stressed. So, you pushed it aside. You never allowed yourself to grieve fully.
To the casual acquaintance, you seemed to have everything together over the next year. You woke up each morning, worked, cared for your family, and prepared for your third daughter. But with each passing day you feared the inevitable – December would eventually come back around. You would have to ‘celebrate’ Christmas again, if only for your children.
Growing up, some of your most cherished memories were celebrating the holidays with your family. However, you now realize you aren’t guaranteed any amount of time with your own children and you want to make sure they have the opportunity to create those same memories. In 2013 your goal was simply ‘fake it till you make it’. You pretended to enjoy the holiday for your girls, but you didn’t want to see any of it. You reluctantly agreed to allow your husband to put up the Christmas tree–in the basement–where you wouldn’t have to see it.
However, as much as you fought it, an occasional smile would sneak up on you, and you instantly felt guilty. You shouldn’t get to enjoy Christmas anymore, right?
You knew that feeling was ridiculous, but you couldn’t help it. Nevertheless, you somehow you made it through the day. As you got ready for bed, you thought to yourself, ‘I expected today to be worse’. You spent 12 months worrying about a day that was truly no different than any other. You didn’t miss him more or less than you did the day before or the day after. You miss him every day. You always will.
The next year was slightly better. You even decorated a little. You wanted to enjoy Christmas. But you still just went through the motions. You can’t remember what Santa brought your family or what their Christmas outfits were without looking at pictures. You shut those days out of your memory, and now you feel like you wasted those years. But, you didn’t. You did what you could. But this year you can do a little more.
This year you began enjoying Christmas shopping again. You don’t stay away from the stores because you’re afraid you’ll have to fight back tears as you walk by the holiday decorations. You’re smiling a little more without feeling guilty. You even have Christmas lights outside. And, most importantly, you don’t miss him any less.
You’re learning that enjoying Christmas doesn’t mean that you care any less.
No one grieves the same. Everyone is in different stages. But for where you are right now, I encourage you to do this…
Embrace the waves of emotion as they come – don’t fight them. You find yourself staying too busy so you don’t have to have a silent moment to yourself to sit and think. Allow yourself time to feel. To cry. Then, you can let it pass. If you don’t embrace the waves while you are surrounded by your family, they will inevitably come crashing down days later when you’re feeling all alone.
Hug and don’t let go. Hold on longer than is socially acceptable, and let that hug say everything that you can’t with words.
Songs you’ve heard a hundred times will come on the radio and suddenly take on a new meaning. You’ll want to change the station before you feel the urge to cry. Just listen.
Say his name.
You’ve noticed how people are afraid to mention it, as if bringing it up will upset you. But the reality is that you’re thinking of him all the time and you want to feel like the rest of the world hasn’t forgotten. You get so used to saying ‘him’ that you still get a lump in your throat when you say it. Say his name. His name is Noah.
Finally, remember that you’re not alone. Many people are fighting the same battle during the holidays but we never really talk about how hard it is. We hide our pain with Christmas lights, presents, and sugary treats. So just be kind to each other. Be kind to yourself.