There’s the sweet tomato of houses lit up with Christmas lights, the hearty beef of warmth that comes from time spent with family and friends, and the onions, those darn onions of loss that bring tears to our eyes.
And so, as we enter the holiday season, some of us may be asking: how can I face them after losing a loved one? How can I find the “happy” in “happy holidays” again?
If you’re struggling with loss this year, here are three ways to embrace the healing process.
1. Stay in bed, sob uncontrollably, then get up and make the coffee
In order to heal, we must grieve. When we lost our daughter tears were hard for me to find. I shut down; I went numb. However, as the days unfolded into months, cracks appeared in the concrete foundation of my heart. When you feel the cracks in yours, take the sledge hammer and set free all that is stuck inside the fissures. Grieve. Sob. Go down into the dark.
Here however is the caveat, you must come back up; you must resurface; you must get up and make the coffee. Surround yourself with whatever life vests you need to resurface, be they friends, partners, or counselors. And remember that surfacing doesn’t mean skipping down the lane whistling, after great loss it simply means getting up and making the coffee.
2. Put the Louisville Slugger down
A year after my grandmother’s passing I still catch myself with my imaginary Louisville Slugger aiming for the outfield of my heart. I chastise myself for not calling more, not standing next to her in her kitchen learning her treasured recipes, which I’ll never taste again, not being there when she died, alone. And as a former softball player, I’ve got good aim.
Even in seemingly “perfect” relationships regrets lurk, and when we lose someone, those regrets find us. What are your regrets, which Louisville Slugger do you choose when no one’s looking? Name them, and do the work to forgive yourself.
And though I wish I could tell you that the forgiving is quick, that there are magic words that make regrets go away, there aren’t. Forgiveness happens one softball lob at at time. If you have a big regret you can’t seem to overcome, seek help with techniques like EMDR. In order to let go, we have to let ourselves, and others, off the hook for our imperfect humanity. We have to forgive.
3. Clean out your attic
We lost our daughter this year on January 31st. It was the worst day of my life. On that day, in a frenzy of pain, my husband and I moved every piece of “baby” in our home into our attic. Mea’s swing, her play mat, her strollers and car seats, her bottles and the co-sleeper she slept in every night next to me, all stashed away, too painful to see.
Stashing our pain in the attic is sometimes necessary, it’s sometimes the only way we can get up and live again. However, in order to heal there comes a time when you must open the door and clean out the attic.
As I sat alone in our attic and sifted through things that jingled and rattled, and tiny clothes our daughter never got to wear, I sifted through the places in me where she lives. The places I had locked in the attic of my heart.
I know it’s hard; I know it hurts; I know it’s scary, and I also know that those we love return to our hearts when we clean out the attic.
What’s in your attic? What tangled pieces have you sealed away, painful reminders of the light that’s been lost? Perhaps it’s time to sift through them, because in rummaging through the pieces of this world that are forever linked to our memories, we welcome those memories home. And in time, their sting slowly blossoms into sweetness.
Clean out your attic, and in so doing make space in your life again.
4. Bonus Round
I know I said three, however I can’t help but share one final tip: get a tree. Though you may be tempted to skip the holidays all together, get a tree, buy an ornament, sing Christmas carols, keep your traditions.
Loss is inevitable in life, however living is not, it’s a choice. And the way to find “happy” in your holidays again is one brave act of living a time.