|photo by Jennifer Upton|
For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays. Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season. Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.
So many powerful voices have filled this sacred space with answers to the piercing question, “What do you do when you are hurting during the holidays?” It’s a big question and that is precisely why so many have needed to weigh in.
Having lost my baby boy, Josiah, almost twelve years ago, I have waded through my share of holidays and special occasions. I would like to add - if I may - another piece to this puzzle we are assembling together.
I want to speak to those for whom the experience of peace and joy is equally (if not more) troubling as the experience of pain and grief during the holiday season. I intend to address the question, “What do you do when you are NOT hurting (or hurting so much less than you used to that it barely registers on your emotional Richter scale) during the holidays?”
As much as we need permission to feel our pain when others are celebrating, we who have lost often find it even harder to let the good in when it comes a knockin’. What is it about guilt and grief? They seem to be kissing cousins. We are either much too happy for our own comfort or much too sad for someone else’s. Phooey.
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In my own healing journey, there have been significant touch points that I can identify as game changers. One such event took place four years ago.
I visited my son’s grave late one afternoon – a place I had resolutely avoided up until that point – with clear intention. I was there to let him go, almost eight years after he died. (We all move at the pace right for us. Mine was quite slow.)
I sat on the grass at the cemetery, feet folded under me, and knelt over the tombstone containing my little boy’s name in big bronze letters. With a shaky voice and teary eyes, I read aloud a letter I’d written for the occasion. I told my son that since his death I’d been terrified of forgetting who he was, what he looked like, what it felt like to nurse him at my breast, rock him in my arms, kiss his tiny forehead. I was afraid that in forgetting any of those precious things I would lose him all over again.
To ensure this would never happen, I had unconsciously “carried him” physically in my body, in a way that made my gut ache. He was the-one-not-with-me and I was desperately trying to hold on to him in whatever way I could. I told him that I needed to find another way to both release him from my body and still hold tight to his memory. There was freedom in admitting it.
Then I paused a moment and discretely lifted my shirt to expose the ribbon I’d tied around my waste at home in preparation for this portion of the letting go. As I snipped the ribbon, I actively cut away the constriction the holding on too tight had caused. I breathed a sigh of relief as it fell to the ground.
A shift occurred that day, though the evidence of it took time to manifest. Instead of feeling further away from Josiah, I felt much more deeply connected, as if I could rightly relate to him and his memory because he was now residing in his proper place. That ritual was part of the process of carrying me to that illusive territory called Acceptance and my heart is blooming and thriving there.
At first glance, this experience seems to have very little to do with my question, “What do you do when are NOT hurting during the holidays?” But I’m telling it because snipping the cords of guilt and fear is a key to letting ourselves relax and revel in the holiday season.
There does come a time, dear ones, when the pain eases, when the memory of your loved one settles into a deep place of the subconscious. You may be able to decorate a tree, bake a batch of cookies, or listen to an entire Christmas CD without a single conscious thought of the-one-not-with- you. You may go days or weeks without their name or face floating across the screen of your conscious mind. This may sound alarming, as if somehow your heart has betrayed you and you have (gulp) forgotten.
But you have not. It is evidence that you are carrying your loved one in a different way. It is as it should be.
So if you happen to find yourself reveling in the season – if even for a moment – I want to assure you that it is okay, it is right, it is good. You mustn’t feel guilty. I will be reveling right along with you.
I love Angela's words. They are always water from a deep well for me. And her advice to revel (when ready) speaks straight to my heart. We are two years out from losing our Eve, and I'm starting to want to move closer to acceptance and living out from under the shadow of death. I'm not sure what's possible and what's not, and there's that whole "new normal" thing that everyone talks about which is so apt but also so frustrating, because I don't want a new normal, just normal normal. But, as Angela writes, perhaps it's time to accept that my old definition of normal is gone forever, and that there is so much light and life here in the newness after death.
What about you? Are you ready to revel, or do you need more intimate time with the grief? How can you press into whichever your heart craves?
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Angela Renee is a single mother who lives with her eight-year-old son in coastal California. She’s most likely to be found marking up the pages of a favorite book or sipping hot tea with a friend in a local coffee shop, the one where everyone knows her name. She writes at imagineangie.blogspot.com.