Losing a loved one is hard, living through the holidays is a whole other battle.
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This will be the first Thanksgiving in 41 years that I won’t have a parent here on earth. This will be the first Thanksgiving in 41 years that I won’t be in Ohio surrounded by family and friends I grew up with, and y’all it’s a very hard pill to swallow. A little over a month ago I decided it was time to talk to a professional, because I knew what was coming the months ahead, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. After losing my mom unexpectedly almost 8 months ago, I wasn’t a stranger to the grief I was experiencing.
My mom passed only 3 weeks after finding out she was sick, but her death came 7 years after losing my dad who was sick for 14 months with terminal cancer. While there was a huge hole after he passed, not a whole lot changed in regards to family traditions. This time, things are completely different and the gravity of it all is palpable. How do you move forward? Is it possible to still be joyful in a time filled with so much grief?
Give yourself grace
No matter how long it’s been since your loved one has passed, you have to be gentle with yourself. Grieving the loss of someone while trying to do your normal day to day life is a lot. There are going to be days when you feel like you’ve got a good handle on things, and there are going to be days when one small thing can trigger a flood of emotions. The holidays are going to magnify everything. It’s another reminder that your loved one isn’t here.
Talking to someone gave me the opportunity to lean into my emotions and know that what I was feeling and experiencing was completely normal. It also is giving me the tools to navigate the weeks and months ahead. Being patient with ourselves and understanding that there is no set timeline when it comes to grief will make a world of difference.
You’re allowed to be happy
Right after my mom was diagnosed, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to her. We had a very open and honest conversation that I do not take for granted. Out of all the words she said to me, my being happy was so very important to her. No matter how we lose our loved ones, the last thing they want to do is hurt us, even though losing them has hurt us beyond measure. I feel they would hate to know that we stopped living our lives, and honestly, I feel like it’s our duty to carry on especially now that they can’t. It’s ok to laugh, to smile, and grieve… all at the same time.
The holidays are a time of gathering with those who mean the most, celebrating the year that has past, and looking toward the future ahead. Which is hard to do following loss, but is actually when it’s most important. I have two beautiful girls and an amazing husband to be thankful for in my life. They’re grieving too and I don’t want them to be worried about not making me sad. I want to talk about my parents and the memories we have of them. Memories and photos are all that we have left.
Life will never “return back to normal” and instead it will move forward. At first it may feel impossible and that’s where you have to keep giving yourself grace. Sunday nights I always called my mom, now Sunday nights feel so different. Many have offered to be my Sunday night phone call, but I want to leave that special tradition with my mom. Moving forward means figuring out how life will look without that person physically being here. During the holidays it will mean establishing new traditions.
The holidays will definitely look different because we’re not going to Ohio for Thanksgiving and my mom isn’t coming to South Carolina for Christmas. Instead, we sat down as a family and figured out which traditions we want to continue and the new things we want to try. We know that next year we may do something completely different and that’s ok. Being flexible and finding what this new season means as a family is what matters most.
You’re not alone
I’m by no means a trained professional, so if you feel like you’re in a funk that you just cannot get out from under, it’s ok to see someone who is. I’ve had some pretty heavy emotional revelations and it was a huge relief to talk to someone who wasn’t in my day to day life. What I can offer you is personal experience and what I’ve learned along this journey. No one asks to have a loss in their life, but it’s so important to know that there is life after loss. I’ve found being open and honest with what I’m feeling has helped my family tremendously and has helped me feel less alone.
I felt that it was important to write this. Not only to hopefully help someone else who may be going through something similar, but also as a reminder to myself. One day at a time, with each passing milestone, helping my heart to understand this new chapter. I hope that you too are able to find peace and happiness through the holiday seasons to come.
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