A Letter to Those Struggling During the Holiday Season
Two years ago, I found myself drinking a cup of coffee in a quiet coffee shop in downtown Chicago. I still struggled to call myself a writer or understand my writing goals. (Though, by this time, I had already been writing for CF News Today for a few months.)
I had lost my sister, Alyssa, nine months earlier, so I decided to write a letter to those struggling during the holiday season. It was mostly for me.
I’ve strayed away from writing about grief as often as I did in the year following my sister’s death. I’ve wondered how much I can possibly write about a subject, especially given how quickly time moves and how every year can start to feel the same, before I’m writing the same essay.
But grief does change over the years. I have a hard time understanding how this is already the third holiday season since Alyssa died in March 2018. I’ve wondered if I will ever return to normalcy.
By the time she died, I had read books and articles about death and grieving so that I could attempt to sympathize and prepare myself for the moments before her death. It was a morbid type of “research.” I knew people eventually return to a new sense of normalcy after losing a loved one, and many even experience happiness again. I used to think the pain doesn’t abate but manifests differently. In my experience, the hard truth is a mix: The pain has abated to some degree, and it does manifest differently.
I still dearly miss my sister. There are moments when I relive her final days and experience excruciating mental agony. That much will always be true. For the first year after her death, I refused to let myself feel relief that she was no longer suffering (she had struggled quite a bit during her last five years) or excitement about positive things happening in my life, such as starting this column. I felt it was “right” for me to suffer and dread every waking moment of my life so that I wouldn’t forget my sister. I thought appearing “happy” meant I was grieving improperly or processing my sister’s death abnormally.
Looking back on that first year of grief, I took a self-flagellatory approach. I was probably grieving normally, but it wasn’t until I started to see a therapist that I learned to treat myself with the same compassion I believe other people deserve.
I have accrued some life wisdom and a few imaginary gray hairs (although I’m excited to actually go gray one day, thanks to Trikafta).
If like me, you have constantly berated yourself or experienced self-loathing, I give you permission to love yourself and recognize that you’ve learned from difficult times. Sometimes we mess up and harm others, and we must promise to be better when we do, but we can take a compassionate approach instead of an aggressive, self-demeaning one.
Grief can manifest as shame or guilt, and when it does, we may recall the times we got into arguments with our loved one. These valuable lessons teach us to never stay angry or upset for too long and to always apologize and right the ship when we do slip up. Something beautiful about this life is the ability to always grow, move forward, and learn lessons that we can share with others.
To those struggling this season: Whatever you’re feeling is OK. Things will get better. Whether this is your first or 50th holiday season without certain loved ones, we are in this together.
It sounds so cheesy, but we can never express enough compassion. It only begets more compassion. I’ve learned to apply this lesson to myself as well. Enough mental anguish comes with losing a loved one without us putting more undue stress on ourselves. It’s important that we appreciate our loved ones’ support during any turbulent time, but we can always support and learn from ourselves. It’s a beautiful thing!
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