My father died on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Two years later, my mother died one week before Thanksgiving, and five days later my husband went too.
I remember during his final days driving to pick up a refill of Dad’s morphine prescription. All around me in the drug store were people just going about their business. Teenage girls looking at the makeup selection, a woman buying greeting cards and a father buying his little children ice cream. I recall thinking, Dad used to buy me ice cream, too. And now he never will again. It was hard to understand, how all of these people could just be going about their business.
Now, go ahead, ask me, what is my favorite holiday? You might think I would say the 4th of July or Labor Day. No, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. And as we move from Thanksgiving and into the Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year celebrations, I continue to celebrate with the people I love. I do this while fully aware of the fact that everything about these holidays has changed for me.
At first, continuing to love the holiday season was an act of defiance. “Screw you death, you are not going to ruin my life!” And this little bit of rebellion helped to see me through my first few holiday seasons. Eventually, I recognized that this time would always be bittersweet. And that I was not alone. Many of you have experienced loss during the ‘most wonderful time of the year’, and many of you are missing parents, and children, and partners and friends. One of my favorite stories from Buddhist teachings ends with a grieving woman, who realizes, that the dead are many, and the living are few.
When Mom and Ed died, I recall having a similar reaction. I would see people running their errands, buying groceries, filling up their gas tanks. Didn’t they know that I was utterly torn up? But eventually, I began to see the routines of others as reassuring. Watching people navigate the everyday business of life gave me hope. There were others who were well and happy. And I would be, too. It was good to be surrounded by people who did not seem to be impacted by death. Of course, I had no idea how many of them were watching the rest of us and thinking, “How can they just be going about their business, don’t they know my loved one has died?”
And seeing normalcy around you is what will help you get through the season and beyond. Participating in ways you feel will support you is what will help you to reclaim your strength.
If you are facing this season from a place of grief, here are some ways in which you can support yourself:
You can do this. Is it difficult? Yes! But you are not the one who died, so keep living and keep going.