holiday griefYou’re about to see a grief counselor get very personal about grief.

Because it’s the holiday season and there’s nothing I have a love-hate relationship with more than the holidays.

On the one hand, I love the holidays. Thanksgiving is my favorite as I’m a gratitude fanatic. Plus, I have a lot of awesome memories of gathering with my mom’s side of the family and time with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins on Thanksgiving every year. I love Christmas as well – the festiveness, the twinkle lights, the smell of pine trees and general sense of celebration and connectedness.

Then there’s the other side of the holidays.

Grief.

The empty places at the table that should be filled by my fiancé, my children, friends and loved ones who have passed. And this year, my uncle and my grandpa. The gifts I’ll never buy. The gratitude I don’t get to say for experiences I don’t get to have like dressing my children up for Halloween or watching their excitement over the first snowfall or seeing them run to hug their grandparents or cousins or uncles.

The mixture of sweetness and pain that comes with the holiday season feels especially tender and raw this year. Perhaps it’s because both my uncle and my grandfather passed this year and won’t be here for the holidays. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been more open over this past year about the losses of my life and old, typically private grief has more outlets to arise.

It doesn’t matter why. It just is.

I spent a lot of years trying to believe that if I just ignored my grief and pain, if I could just push it away long enough, it would go away. That one day the tears would stop. That I would eventually stop looking for my daughters in all the children I meet. That I’d stop wondering what holiday traditions I might have made with the family I was just beginning to create. That one day I would stop seeing the empty spaces at the table.

I spent a lot of those years trying to avoid the holidays. Many years I avoided going to spend the holidays with the family still here with me and would instead volunteer to work. Other years I would try to pretend it was just another day and spend it at home alone. Sometimes I would join my family and try to pretend it was just another usual holiday and that nothing had changed for me.

None of that worked. I still cry for missing my loved ones. I still look for my girls in every child I see. I still wonder what traditions my little family would have created. I still see the empty spaces at the table.

Holidays continue to be both sweet and utterly painful at the same time.

And so I’ve learned and – am still learning – to allow both.

Allowing myself to enjoy the sweetness and the happy bits of this season of gratitude and celebration and connection and love. To savor the family and friends that remain here with me. To love twinkle lights and mashed potatoes and giving gifts and honoring the beauty this is my life today.

Allowing myself to acknowledge the pain. To cry the tears for the empty spaces at the table and for the little girls I never find in the faces of other children. To cry for the little family that never fully formed and the traditions that will never be created. To be open and honest about the pain, both new and old, that arises when the first Halloween costume that appears in the stores.

This season, I will sit with my clients, my family, my friends who also face this bittersweet mix of feelings. I will love them, hug them, and be inspired by them.

And I will let my family and my friends sit with me. I will let them love me and hug me and see me in ways I haven’t in the past.

Most importantly, I will sit with me. I will love me and nurture me and allow myself to be with me.

It’s the most and the best any of us can be or do, holidays or no holidays.

Let’s all be gentle and sweet with ourselves this holiday season.

There are a lot of philosophies of thought around grief.

We resolve our grief.  We find closure.  We do grief work.  Grief is a lifelong process.  Grief is temporary.  We move through grief.  Grief is to be avoided.  Grief is to be embraced.

The more I work with people who grieve and the more I explore my own experiences with loss the more and more I believe that it’s not about any of that.  It’s not really even about the grief.

It’s all about the love.

When we lose someone or something that we love, our relationship with that person or thing changes.  We still love them, we still love the idea of what was or what we had or the activity we used to do.  The love doesn’t change.  Our relationship changes and in that, the HOW of the way we love them changes.

Recently, as the anniversary of my daughter’s birthday is approaching this Saturday, I’ve been looking at my relationship with her and my beliefs about grief.  And I’m realizing that it’s not about finding closure or resolving grief or working my way through it.   It’s not about the grief at all.

Yes, there is sadness.  There is a profound sense of missing her.  There is even still the occasional moment of anger.  But what matters to me is the love.  I still get to love her.  I still get to be her mother.  I just also get to learn a different ways to love and mother her without her being physically present in my world.

Grief will ebb and flow, come and go.  But Love, Love lives.  It changes.  It morphs.  It expands and transforms.  But it always lives.

And so there is love…

For Grace

Today I heard your laughter on the wind
And the running of your feet in the rain
For a moment, the ghost of a scent –
Sweet scent of little girl bottled just for me

Close my eyes and there you are
Just the way I pictured you would be –
Beautiful and bright in every way.

I took a walk on the river side
Along the path, I swear, I felt your hand hold mine
And your whisper,
Look, Mommy, see how the sun sparkles
Like diamonds shining just for us

I whispered back of rainbows and daisies
And of love –
Love that never dies or fades away

I felt you spin and twirl beside me
Youthful girl I can only imagine you would be
Gentle brush of a kiss
And a giggle fading on the breeze

Happy Birthday, beautiful.
You are everything I dreamed you’d be.


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