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.

mental temper tantrumsOne of my work activities is as an intensive in-home therapist. There are 19 of us in the office – 6 males, 12 other females, and me.

4 of those other females are pregnant. They are all roughly 20 – 24 weeks along at this point.

97% of the time I am absolutely happy and thrilled for them. I love hearing about how they’re doing, whether it’s a boy or girl, what names they are thinking of, watching the baby bumps growing and all that fun stuff.

The other 3%? Well, there is where I get sad and angry and a little jealous.

See, about 9 years ago, my daughter, Grace was born still at 21 weeks. And right about now, these beautiful women’s babies are passing 21 weeks healthy and growing and vibrant.

I didn’t put the connection together right away, between my random extreme moodiness in the office, these pregnancies, and Grace. I had a day last week where I was just feeling all out of sorts and, to be frank, was in a pisser of a mood.

I kept wavering between

a) Wanting everyone to leave me the hell alone (not an ideal feeling when you’re a therapist and also work within a team) and

b) Throwing a sort of mental temper tantrum (complete with metaphorical stomping of feet) wanting someone to magically notice something was up

Well, since by the end of the day neither one of these things had happened, I pulled myself out of my sulking long enough to ask myself,

“What is it that I want someone to give to me or do for me by noticing my out-of-sorts-ness?

My answer was simple.

Love.

I wanted to feel loved and cared for and nurtured.

At that point, I still didn’t recognize what was driving the out-of-sorts moodiness, sadness, and spurts of anger. I just knew I felt crappy and wanted to be loved.

I could have reached out to any number of friends and did I considered calling several of them. However, I also recognized that, sometimes, as important as it is to have people in our lives who support us and love us, it’s equally or even more important to be able to support and love ourselves.

So, I went home. I put on my comfy clothes, lit my favorite vanilla scented candles, started a fire in the woodstove, and made myself a good meal. I put in a DVD of one of my favorite funny shows and pulled out my journal.

Even though I had a dozen (or more) things I felt I should be doing for various work activities and responsibilities, I chose to take care of me. Even before I made the connection and realized what was coming up was a little unexpected grief, I made the choice to love myself.

And through loving myself, I was able to move through the sadness and anger and jealousy, and back into the 97% of happiness and excitement for my colleagues. I’m able to stay connected to that happiness for them even when moments of sadness have come up for me since that day.

It fascinates me how the process of grief shifts, changes, and evolves over time – through awareness, with various losses, and through our own growth. It shows up in a million different ways, in a million different degrees and levels.

Yet, the answer is always the same.

Love.

Love each other. Love ourselves. Love our way through it all.


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