Heartache and Thanksgiving. Grief and Christmas. Depression and New Year’s Eve.
Tricky combinations. For me, mixing these painful emotions and holiday celebrations feels like a collision of two realities.
Three separate times, I was behind the wheel and, without warning, I was rear-ended at a red light. Each time an angry vehicle crashed into me with such force that my head whipped forward and hit the visor; my back immediately ached.
And each time, I was startled, confused, scared, angry and frustrated. At the same time, joy and thanksgiving surfaced. I was hurt and needed attention, yet grateful to be alive and not paralyzed. Tragically, many people lose their lives in these scenarios.
The jolting impact of my daughter Leah’s terminal illness and death created similar painful emotions to an accident – shock, confusion, fear, frustration, etc., but magnified by at least 1000 times.
Since Leah passed away five years ago, living without her during the holidays is disorienting. I have good things (faith, family, friends and other blessings) to celebrate and for which I’m grateful. Yet, nothing erases or takes away the crushing impact of her absence.
Here are things that I do, and have done, to be on the offense around the holidays:
- Seek Care: I get medical treatment when I’m physically hurt; I’m purposeful in getting emotional and spiritual attention as I cope with grief and loss. This care can look like seeing a counselor, spending time with parents who have lost their children, praying, writing about my daughter or talking about her with my husband, son or trusted friend.
- Go Slow: Around the holidays, I didn’t make too many commitments the first couple of years following Leah’s death. Just as I allowed for healing and avoided strain after a car accident, I didn’t host holiday events right after Leah died. I gave myself permission to arrive late, leave early or skip the jolly parties.
- See the Good: A majority of time when people offer help, I accept. Just as I wouldn’t stop an ambulance from taking me to the hospital after my car accidents, I know that I needed, and still need, help coping with the holidays.
- Move Again: The holidays trigger lots of conflicting memories, but I make a conscious effort to focus on my son, husband and people who I love. I know Leah would want this attitude from me. Driving after being rear-ended is scary. Eventually, I had to get back in the car and behind the wheel. I surely look in the rear view mirror more frequently. There are times I am anxious about the future and isolate, but these times are fewer and farer between.
- Remember and Honor: Leah’s illness was not my fault, just as being rear-ended wasn’t my fault. In addition to feeling sorrow, I’m grateful Leah was part of my life. She loved the holidays and brought me great joy the 15 years that I had her in my life. I miss her and honor her by putting up a white Christmas stocking in her memory. Our family creates fun activities to honor her such as cupcake decorating or doing a fun craft in her memory. Sometimes my remembrances are on my own. Other times I invite others to join me.
Collisions are two energies coming together. Mixing pain and joy creates something entirely new.
If you face the collision of sadness and the holidays, you are not alone. Please know that you are stronger than you may think. You’ll get through the season – and may have moments of joy along the way.
Best always, Marie
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Note: Hopefully, you haven’t been rear-ended, but you may have been in a bumper car when you suddenly were jolted by another bumper car. Friendly or not, it’s stunning to the senses.