The holidays bring a mix of emotions, whether you are in a good season or the most difficult season of your life. This year, Christmas may be a loud reminder of what is missing in your life. As the world moves rapidly towards Christmas, instead of feeling anticipation and excitement, you may be feeling lost and uncertain. The reality is 2020 has impacted all of us and over the last year, we all probably grieved something. This Christmas might be the first Christmas you are not able to celebrate in person with the people you love— maybe it’s the loss of a job, or a new diagnosis, or a difficult prognosis, or maybe this is the first year you are navigating the loss of someone you love. No matter where you are on that spectrum, it may feel like the future is unknown and uncertain, and celebrating doesn’t feel possible.
In any season where we are navigating loss or what feels like an uncertain future, it is vital to create space to grieve the loss. Six years ago was my first Christmas without my brother and the weight of it felt suffocating. I could not fathom “celebrating” Christmas without him. It felt wrong and, quite frankly, made me angry that life kept spinning forward when it felt like my world had come to a screeching halt and I was going to live the rest of my days in a barren land without him. Thankfully, I am surrounded by a community of people who loved me really well through my year of firsts. I learned a lot through the way they loved me in my grief. Maybe you don’t have a community that knows how to love you well through this season or perhaps you can’t see how people are loving you in it right now. I want to share with you how I can look back at my first Christmas without him and feel deep sorrow and deep gratitude at the same time.
I was invited to pick 2 things that felt important to me for my first Christmas. The only rules were to pick something that felt honoring of my brother and that moved me towards people.
I didn’t want to choose two things and I fought against that advice for a while. The only reason I ended up choosing 2 things was because I trusted the people telling me because I knew I was too traumatized to navigate Christmas by myself.
So, I trusted them, and I chose 2 things.
The first thing I chose was to do something that felt honoring of my brother. My brother loved cycling and so I decided to invite my family to purchase a bike for my mom from the shop where he once worked. Making this come together was not glamourous or pretty. I sent a broken, half-hearted text message to my family and asked them to help me surprise my mom with a bike.
The second thing I chose was to keep me from living in isolation. Each year, my family gathers at my grandmother’s in New Jersey and spends a week together. The idea of being at my grandmother’s and feeling like I had to be “on” and in someone else’s space felt overwhelming—even with people I love. I asked myself what felt manageable and decided to go to New Jersey for 2 days. I showed up in the capacity I could manage and then I could go home to stay in my pajamas until New Year’s, if necessary.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what I chose because it is unique to my story and my relationship with my brother. You pick 2 things for you. What’s more significant is the why. I invite you to choose things that feel honoring of your loss, move you towards healing, and keep you from living all alone on your island of grief.
That’s it—2 things. Two things that allow you to grieve and still show up. I look back on that first Christmas and it’s a fog. I cried often. I slept to escape the crushing grief. But I also showed up, hands shaking, heartbroken, but present. I will never forget the look on my mom’s face when we rolled the bike in for her. She had the biggest smile and huge tears rolling down her face. Her face is a reminder that we can hold joy and immense sorrow at the same time. You don’t have to be okay in this season. You don’t have to have it all figured out.
You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, grieve forward, and let others love you.