When I became a mom, I had a renewed sense of holiday spirit. I wanted to make the holiday’s memorable for my son. Because of my strong desire to create magic for him, I managed to keep my grief and depression around the holidays buried for the first couple of years of his life. But, the Universe wasn’t going to let me off that easy.
If this sounds like a massive read, then you are correct. I am going to share some dark stories with you but, these stories have a purpose. I hope that I can help you gain some perspective on the not so happy feelings and grief that can show up this time of year. Talking about grief can be uncomfortable, but not dealing with grief can be devastating.
My first-holiday loss
The year was 1986; I was ten years old and in 5th grade. My dad picked my little brother and me up from school the Friday before Christmas break. My dad NEVER picked us up from school, but I didn’t think anything of it. He then told us that my Grandpa Meyer, my mom’s dad, had passed away and my parents would be flying back to New York for the services and Christmas.
My older brother and Grandma Kinsley took care of us until my parents returned home. I didn’t know my grandpa Meyer very well because they lived on the east coast. What I did remember is him calling me Snicklefritz, smoking cigarettes, and sitting in his chair in front of a big window that looked at the backyard at their house in Middletown, NY.
I wish I had the opportunity to get to know my Granpa better; he lived an incredible life. He was a firefighter, delivered bread at Woodstock, and a highly decorated WWII hero. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the loss of my only living grandpa was part of my holiday blues.
The loss continued
My grandma Kinsley made the holiday season (and my childhood) magical for me. She was a big candy maker, and the candy preparations began right around Thanksgiving with the culminating event being a New Year’s day party. Grandma Kinsley was synonymous with the holidays until dementia and Alzheimers got the best of her. My grandma did such an incredible job creating holiday traditions and memories that they have lived on well beyond her physical presence here on earth.
My parents put Grandma Kinsley in a nursing home to keep her safe. She was feisty and frequently fighting with the staff, stealing the other patient’s stuff, and trying to leave the facility on a regular basis. Her brain no longer worked and she stopped eating, it was her way of telling us she was done with her time here on earth. On January 9, 1997, grandma Kinsley became my guardian angel. On the night she died, I went to say goodbye, and for the first time in several years, I could see it in her eyes that she knew who I was and I knew she was finally at peace.
Then I became a Firefighter
I could never prepare for the trauma that this profession exposes me to on a regular basis. I accepted the role as a public servant with excitement and anticipation to make a difference in the community I serve. My heart breaks a little bit each time someone in my community dies, but there is something about this time of year that makes my heart hurt a little more.
The first time I saw a dead baby was in January of 2001. It was the middle of the night, and the sweet 11-week old boy was not breathing and had no heartbeat. I will never forget using my three fingers for chest compressions and the chaos surrounding the scene. My friend’s son was the same age at the time, and all I could picture was him. I remember the Christmas decorations still hanging in the apartment.
A few years later, my crew had a house fire just before Thanksgiving. The large column of smoke that was visible as we pulled out of the station indicated that we were going to a working fire. On the way to the fire, dispatch said that there was a baby inside the house. My. Worst. Nightmare. Yes, firefighters train to save lives. Yes, it is a calling that not many people can answer. But the moment we arrived on the scene of that fully involved house fire, I knew, because of my training, that no one can survive in those conditions, but my partner and I went into the belly of the beast to find the baby.
I found him, and although he was no longer alive, I stood holding him and crying in my full bunker gear, mourning for him and his family. I couldn’t leave him. As a mom, God forbid something tragic should ever happen to my son, I would hope he gets the same care.
In October of 2010, my Grandma Meyer, just a few months shy of her 100th birthday passed away. The family was able to go back east and celebrate her incredible life just before Thanksgiving. And only a year later, my former father-in-law passed away the day after we heard little man’s heartbeat. The day before Thanksgiving.
In 2014, I filed for divorce the Monday of Thanksgiving week. My ex and son flew to Texas for Thanksgiving. I had never been away from my little man for that extended amount of time, so much loss in such a short amount of time was lonely and overwhelming.
During the 2015 holiday season, I was at the lowest point and darkest time of my entire life. I attend a grief workshop to get some tools to help me through the upcoming holidays. But my ex and I were not getting along. I was the heaviest I had ever been, I was miserable at work, and I had received over 20 anonymous letters at work stating what a horrible person I was (more on that another time). Which just confirmed all my self-doubt and insecurities. I was ready to end it all and punch my life ticket. The only reason I did not kill myself is my little man. And I didn’t want him to carry that burden. I found my rock bottom and shit needed to change.
I carry the suicides, the assaults, the death by natural causes, the families with nothing, and my community members who are alone with me this time of year. My losses replay on a constant loop in my head this time of year. There have been times that I have opted out of decorating. The pressure to make all the social engagements, buy gifts, and share all the memories with a significant other has often overwhelmed me. Lonely feels a little stronger this time of year, and that my friend, sucks.
But I believe you have more control over your negative emotions than you may think. Here are four things you can do:
You Don’t Have to go Anywhere You Don’t Want to Go
Last time I checked, there are no laws in place that force you to attend every holiday party, work function or family gathering. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the thought of being that social, then don’t! You don’t need a reason or explanation. It is ok to take a hard pass on social functions that don’t give you “A F@%! Yes,” response.
Take a Moment to Honor Those Not With You
For several years, I tried to bury my losses between October and January. Then, two years ago, I chose to live. I decided that the best thing I could do is to honor their spirit. So, I say a prayer for all of the losses I carry around with me. I send them good feels, and I give a shoutout to the universe for guiding me through my journey. Feel your feelings!! Grief can produce a range of emotions… feel them!!
Start New Traditions
I still make my Grandma Kinsley’s peanut brittle and spend the day baking treats for friends and loved ones. And my family always opens our grifts on Christma Eve. But we have also created new traditions that are special.
The Elf on the Shelf, playing Christmas music all the time, holiday movies, and experiences like the Santa train and holiday shows at the theater!
Have an Attitude of Gratitude
It is SO easy to fall into the victim mentality! I know because I have to work hard to keep the victim away. Life is messy and bad stuff is going to happen. People will die and leave you. But life is also incredibly beautiful, and I don’t want you to miss the great moments.
Take a few moments every day to acknowledge the beauty around you. I started to write down all of my blessings this year, and it helped put things into perspective for me. Tell your people how you feel, give love freely, don’t carry grudges, hug it out, and don’t live with “what if.”
If the holidays are a tough time of year, please know that you are not alone. You can always reach out to talk to someone. The national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255!
My challenge to you is to do what feels best for you and your family this holiday season. Are there new traditions you can start? Is there something you can do to honor a loved one? Remember to have grace, for you and those around you.