Alison Krauss and Natalie MacMaster strike the perfect chords in their song, “Get Me Through December.” Some of the lyrics that resonate most deeply with me are as follows:
Where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go
I’ve taken the pain no girl should endure
Faith can move mountains; of that I am sure
But faith can move mountains; of that I am sure
A promise I’ll remember
Get me through December
So I can start again…”
Sometimes you just have to listen and feel, listen and feel, and listen and feel your way through some more…
Leaning into grief through the Holidays is no easy task. It’s not something you can cross off your list or check twice. For some who live with grief, it may seem easier to just bear down and get through the month of December in any way possible, using any means possible. Alcohol, sex, spending extravagantly, or busying up those schedules so much you run on pure adrenaline. I could numb out and pour myself into a bottle of wine every night, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. The headaches, throbbing joint pain and dehydration on top of grief is excruciating. Been there, done that. Besides, I’m nursing a Baby and her health is dependent on mine. I think about that all the time these days. It’s not all about me, and thank God it isn’t! This knowledge may just be what saves me on some days.
The first year of grieving through Christmas Holidays was excruciating. No one knew what to do to help one another feel better. We leaned into being together with family but pretty much cancelled Christmas, holiday decorating, baking, and gift giving – kinda. It was awkward as hell and the more we tried to fight against it, the worse it felt. I love my family dearly, but if I had it to do over again – I would just take off on a spa vacay by myself. It’s just too much pressure and everyone is so fragile, and working double time to be careful and considerate of one another also added additional stress. Dealing with the emotions of others, the glances, the longings on top of what I was already feeling internally was just too much for me to handle. Sometimes it really is – just – too – much, and it’s OK to put yourself in a bubble and be solely responsible for oneself.
The second year of living through December we were pregnant, and so the Holidays took a different shape. It felt a little more “normal” according to the traditions I grew up with, and there was certainly plenty to celebrate as we looked forward to a new child blessing our presence. I was hungry in a new way and so the sense of taste was in full force and Holiday recipes dazzled my taste buds again. We didn’t have to tip toe around each other as much and the rawness from exposed pain had settled and healed a bit. And yet, it remained under the surface, and would sometimes come out sideways and take the breath out of me. People weren’t quite sure what to do but also weren’t as careful. The growing pains of how to interact with people in acute grief “stages” is just mind boggling. There’s no linear or rational thinking about it, it’s just all tossed around in there like a tornado through a town – not really sure when it will touch down, if at all, but everyone running for safety.
This year is our Baby’s first Christmas, and it is a welcomed feeling to get caught up in the magic and newness of everything while she discovers things like Christmas trees and lights. She represents everything we hope for, and everything we love and adore. And still, her older brothers are not here to show her the way – to wake up in the mornings looking for the Elf on the Shelf, affectionately known in our family as Manuel. Manuel also died in our House Fire. They are not here to create Christmas wish lists from catalogs over taking our mailbox, to gather gifts for someone less fortunate, to perform in school musicals, lay out Christmas cookies for Santa, or to snuggle along side of while singing Silent Night at the midnight Eucharist on Christmas Eve. And they won’t be there to get caught up in the contagious enthusiasm of opening gifts under the tree while I sip on my coffee on Christmas morning. I still get those catalogs and I’m not sure what to do with them. So, I look through them and dog ear what I think my sons might wish for at this point. And then I throw it into the recycling bin. Why do I dog ear those pages? Because I can get lost in the wonderment of it all. I can get lost in wondering what they might like to have, what new toy, what new book or gadget or style of shoes to wear. I embrace the wonder, but it’s so hard to throw that magazine in the damn bin. I don’t share the feeling that some bereaved mothers talk about when they feel guilty for feeling happy. I know my Boys would want me to be happy, as they would take cues from me on how they should show up at any given moment. If I was happy, they would also feel confident in feeling happy. This has not changed. I can still feel their happiness when I am also paying attention to feeling good in my body and bones on this earth. The opposite is also true. So I’d rather fill myself up with wonderment. For me, it’s easier to imagine them feeling in awe too. They would for sure be in awe of their little sister. I know they wish they could hold her and make her laugh.
So this year, as the Holidays are upon us, I find myself wondering how we as a family will create space for both, and… to honor the love we have lost in the passing of my two children, while simultaneously the love we have gained in our Baby Girl. Whether it will be in decorating a tree of their own, in lighting a candle in memory of them, or recollecting memories for her to get to know her brothers she will never meet, I will endeavor to create sacred space in which to have intentional conversations and honor it all.
I might even buy her two gifts from a “Secret Santa” or “Guardian Angel,” picking out specific toys I think they might have picked for her.
While doing so, I will anchor myself in my breath. I will feel my feet connected to the earth, here, for as long as my life allows me. I will take the opportunity I have to be with my loved ones and help co-create experiences in which to flourish and savor special memories. And I will remember that I am not, nor am I ever, alone.
If you are navigating grief from losing a loved one, please honor that space with in you in a special way. Honor the way they touched your soul and create intention around something specific and tangible in regards to them. Reach out to those who you know will talk openly with you about your loved one. Try not to take it personally when others forget to acknowledge your loss, or how you may still be navigating the heavy energy surrounding it. Be honest with yourself and those around you, and it’s OK to take a break from all the hustle if you need to just be by yourself for a bit.
If you are aware of folks dealing with loss during the Holidays, do not hesitate to reach out to them. Do not be afraid to name the person they have lost out loud. We crave to hear their names spoken in other voices besides our own. We need to know that you – also – have not forgotten this very significant person in our lives that made us feel whole. You can always say something like, “Hey – I just want you to know I’m thinking of you as you navigate the Holidays without your person (fill in the appropriate name here). I can not imagine what it feels like for you, and I want you to know you are not alone.” And if you can’t say it, because that can be hard too, write it. And sometimes it’s a look that’s more like a gaze. A look that reaches further into the soul of someone else and emits the tender care you are capable of sharing. And if you’re just not sure what to do, saying that can also be so refreshing. Authenticity will reach further than anything.
This Sunday, December 9th is the Annual Worldwide Candle Lighting for all those parents who have lost their children. The Compassionate Friends asks us to light a candle on Sunday evening at 7:00 pm for one hour in honor these loved ones. Not only will I light two candles, but I will share through social media as well. We light candles because we remember their light in this world. We light candles because their love lit a room in ways no other could or can or will. It will be nice to see all the candles lit knowing that across the world, LOVE is still the most powerful thing that reaches across the Veil and unites all loved ones together.
I would love to hear about what helps you navigate grief through the Holidays. Will you share in the comments below? If you’d like to engage a conversation with me and share the name of your person, I will add them to my altar and light a candle for them as well. Just make sure to leave a comment here so my attention will be all on you and yours…
Always, and in All Ways,