Grief and the holiday season (2020 edition)

Due to the fact that I’m a Jew, and I am still coping with grief, I have an incredibly complicated relationship with this time of year. Last year, the holiday season was horrible. I was bombarded with Christmas greetings and music and messages and, more than once, I ended up in a puddle of tears because of the memories of my childhood and the people – my brother, my father, my paternal grandparents, my mother-in-law – that have all died in the past four years. Add to that that I literally had a Salvation Army bell ringer yell at me because I didn’t wish her a “Merry Christmas” back, and I simply couldn’t handled it. I made a vow that in 2020, I would not be subjected to the onslaught of Christmas cheer and memories that were too painful to enjoy. For months now, I’ve been making plans to ensure that I didn’t have to get anywhere near a store between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

The thing I hadn’t planned on, though, was that in a year, I would change. I would heal. I would feel better.

Imagine my surprise this year when SiriusXM went live with all the Christmas music channels on November 5th and the sound of the cheery music didn’t absolutely gut me. Instead, it made me smile. I remember specific, special Christmases with our little nuclear family when my brother and I were young, and I was okay. I teared up, but the pain was manageable, and the memories were welcomed  for the first time since he died in August 2018.

Two nights ago, I saw that Elf was on TV. Elf was one of my dad’s favorite movies, and I found myself watching it and smiling. It still is a great movie, and it made me happy. (I mean, you’d have to have a heart of stone to not feel Buddy the Elf’s joy.) Tonight, I found that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was about to air, and I tuned in. The entire Vacation franchise was our family’s “thing.” We watched them over and over again, and for every family vacation we went on, my dad dubbed my brother “Rusty” and me “Audrey.” Christmas Vacation is on as I’m writing this and, again, I’m smiling. Memories that tie me to my departed loved ones are no longer painful, and it makes me feel better. Lighter.

My plans to avoid stores and people that I put together last year are still very much in place. Due to COVID-19, we haven’t eaten inside a restaurant since March, and we only get groceries through pick-up and home delivery. I don’t shop, which is helpful since the world still insists on shoving Christmas down our throats, and I really have zero plans to contract COVID.

I’m just happy that I’m able to handle all of it this year. I could barely even light my Hanukkah candles last year – I even skipped a night – because I was so sad, but I’m not like that this year. I was surprised to hear that my mom, too, was on the mend. She is even considering putting a tree up this year, which will be her first one since 2016 because she’s skipped them since due to the losses.

Grief is a beast, and the holiday season only compounds those feelings. My heart goes out to all who have lost someone this year as they face what is supposed to be a cheerful, wonderful season of joy. It is anything but for so many people, and I guess the whole point of this post is to say that there is joy to be found on the other side of grief. I can connect with memories of Christmases past, even if I don’t celebrate the holiday anymore, because it connects me to people I love, miss, and cherish. To finally be okay with that is such a milestone on my grief journey.


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