As the holidays approach, I can feel the tension in my neck begin to build. I begin to anticipate how this year will look. What will we do? Who will be around us and will I make it through again? I’m an anticipator. I stressfully anticipate and imagine all that could go wrong, all that could go right and really any of the possibilities. I am hopeful. I am sad. I am grateful and I’m angry…all rolled up into one big holiday stress ball (just put a ribbon on me and I’ll be ready to go). I begin to plan and I begin to wonder how I will manage missing my husband this year. Each year brings some new elements of missing him. Each year brings those same suffocating elements that I have missed all along…only now they seem more amplified than at other times of the year. This year I add the loss of my dad who died in spring. So, not only is it me and my boys grieving someone this year, but all my siblings and my mom are added into the mix as we face the first holiday without my dad here with us.
I think this is when it gets so complicated. As with every different way there is to love there are as many different ways to grieve. The things I loved and miss about my dad are different than those of my family. My boys miss their dad and now their grandfather in a different way than I do. Grief is so individual. What works for me and helps me cope may not help my kids. The holiday season’s focus is family and when families feel broken it seems to me that the focus of the holiday is that our family is broken. Now this is not to say there wasn’t brokenness in our pre-grieving family, it is just a different, somewhat communal brokenness. We can name something that we all feel loss about and that we all feel is missing. Although our loss is communal, the way we deal with it is not. We all deal with this loss in different ways. It can be with compassion or with animosity. It can be with withdrawal or the need to be surrounded with people we love. It can be by sleeping through the day or staying awake and busy all the time. Again, as many ways as there are to love, we have that many ways to grieve.
Much to my dismay, several dear friends lost a parent this year also. For me, it has been heartbreaking and interesting listening to their stories of loss and sadness. Each of our journeys has differences, each of our families have their own ways to deal with their communal loss. Some how, I feel more detached from the loss of my dad. I know this is because my husband died before my dad. I am coping with losing my husband every day of my life. My husband died at 46 leaving my children fatherless very young. I feel grateful that my dad lived to 75 years old. I had probably more than half my life with my dad alive. So, I don’t know if this detachment I feel is because I have been building grief coping skills the last five years, because I’m shut down a bit because my heart has been broken so thoroughly or because I’m grateful for what I had and my view has been so shifted by my children’s loss. What I am sure about is the holidays bring about a bevy of feelings, anxiety, sadness and hopefulness.
Yes, hopefulness. For every holiday that has passed, I have learned that I can survive loss. I have learned that love never dies and that is why the pain persists in me. I have learned that I was given great gifts…a loving husband and a loving dad. I have learned as much as I miss their physical presence with me during the holiday, it is a measure of how much I was allowed to love…of how much risk was taken by all of us. Loving is a risk. Loving is a risk and without it life is hollow. So, now, during the holidays when I feel hollow and I miss my husband, my dad, and all those people who have died around me, I can remember that I can fill that hollow spot, that pain, that overwhelming sadness with the gratefulness that I was loved and was capable of loving. I can be hopeful because I know that love and loss go hand in hand. Great pain after my husband’s death, great pain after my father’s death is only there because we all loved…no matter how perfect or imperfect that love is. I can be hopeful because through my grief, I have learned the importance of an open heart no matter how broken, shattered, or smashed that heart may be. Through the raw experience of grief, I learned the real importance of love.