Holiday blues are just as real as holiday cheers. Managing grief and loss during Christmas is a challenge that's not often recognized.
Photo by Tommaso79 at Dreamstime
Posted on December 24, 2021
Sparkling white snow glistening over the midnight calm. Children are halfway sleep, so they will not miss his arrival. Before they laid their heads to rest, they filled the house with warm baked cookies and Christmas carols. These were the stories reveling through the fall into winter, as a child. It was that Disney innocence of knowing that Christmas morning would bring all the gifts you wanted throughout the year. The anxiousness to countdown once Halloween ended was always a clear reminder the holiday season is here. Every hallmark card reads about the joy and cheerfulness of the season but what about the side that is not so merry.
We have been conditioned to believe that Christmas season is the one time of the year everyone is filled with love and giving. It truly is, until it is not because reality knows no difference between joy and pain. The Christmas trees and holiday décor can remind someone of a time that felt like a real Christmas. Somewhere in the other 364 days of the year a sister had to share a final goodbye to her brother and a mother had to find a way to explain to her kids why there were no presents under the tree. Then there is someone like me who lives miles away from the only place really known as home. Where distance is not just measured by miles but by a virus that keeps on spreading and an empty account that makes a job offer the best Christmas gift someone can give.
I absolutely love Christmas and can say it is my personal favorite time of the year. However, these last two years have been nothing close to the Christmases I’ve known. I never imagined spending Christmas without my family let alone two years in a row. I was fortunate to fly home in the first week of December, even though the reason for the trip was rooted in assisting with my ill grandmother. You might as well call her situation terminal because when dementia finally takes over your mind there is nothing more of the person you once knew.
To put things in perspective, my grandmother migrated to the U.S. from Jamaica somewhere back in the 60’s or 70’s. Just like many immigrant stories she settled here to create a better life and built her new life from the bottom up. I could only imagine the challenges she faced as a black woman migrating to the U.S. during segregation where racism was not as prevalent in Jamaica.
Now, one thing Ms. Ruby was, was known for her independence (next to her prissiness lol). Without even knowing it, her determination to having a quality life paved the way for the rest of my relatives who would migrate to the U.S. later on including her son (my dad).
This alpha woman diminished into a vulnerable dependent woman who has more life behind her than in front of her. There’s a saying (if you’re West Indian then you probably know it) that goes “once a man, twice a child” and that’s exactly what she’s experiencing. No one in our family would fix their lips to say she’s dying but she is. When you are in a situation like this you begin to think about how many “lasts” you have left. What was our last conversation before dementia took over? What was her last memory of me before she forgot who I was? What if this is the last Christmas she may have, and I am not home to be there for it?
Recorded 12/25/2018: One of my grandma's final Christmas before her dementia really declined. Sidebar-Sorry, Brey I guess this did end up on the internet but like I said it's for the memory's years later.
This Christmas sucks, but do you know what? That’s okay. I have been fortunate enough to experience many memorable Christmases to get me through the difficult Christmases ahead to come. Tomorrow may not feel like what it used to be 10 years ago but the biggest gift that keeps on giving has been life. I get the chance to wake up each day and create a new memory despite where I am in life. Grief will always exist and resurface during times of celebration and bonding. Our bodies hold on to trauma even when we think our minds have finally adjusted. That is why it is important that we allow ourselves to feel all that arises from the absence we capture. Tomorrow is going to be a distressing day for numerous people for several reasons. Even though certain people would be quick to write us off as Grinches and Scrooges please remember you are not. We are just humans who carry real emotions on days that remind us of places, people, and things we have lost or are losing. Gentleness and kindness can go a long way during this time. We all have the capacity to show love to others even if it means showing love to ourselves first.
Christmases from 1993/1994 to 2020
"Be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, and be understanding to yourself. "
I once was sympathetic to situations like mine but now that is replaced with empathy because I know how it feels. For those going through the holiday blues I want you to hold yourself tight and love on you Christmas day. I want you to know that grief and joy can coexist. As we cherish valuable moments, we can still ache for those missing in our memories. Grief and loss are not just related to death but anything of value to us that we lost connection to. Always remember in the depth of your grief, your thought of and cared for. Be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, and be understanding to yourself. If you need to take tomorrow hour by hour, minute by minute, or even second by second then allow yourself that space. Invite your emotions to cover you so you are not holding anything back. Do not be so quick to dismiss any type of warmth that fills you either because you think you should feel guilt for feeling a sense of goodness. That warmth you will feel is the energy of your loved one reminding you their spirit lives within you. Or that warmth you will feel is that mustard seed of faith reminding you today’s experience is not tomorrow’s outcome.