As a kid, the holidays were always magic: bright lights, time with family, and a general aura of joy. I would wait all year for my favorite season, beaming with joy when the air started to turn cold. I loved the tradition, the predictability, and the consistency of my holiday plans. Never did it cross my mind that those feelings would change. However, with an empty seat across from me at our usual gift exchange this past Christmas, everything felt a lot less magical.
My grandfather was my biggest fan. He was always at every sporting event, musical, and award ceremony I ever had. He had the most amazing sense of humor and always had a new story to tell me that I hadn’t heard. I looked forward to going to his house whenever I could, and depended on his “stay beautiful” farewells to get me through to the next time I saw him again.
Most importantly, time with my Pop was my very favorite part of Christmas. Even up until the age of 22, I would wait anxiously by the door for his arrival at our house, sit with him as he watched whatever basketball game was on (despite understanding nothing about basketball), and laugh heartily when he would place a bow on his head claiming he was the “real gift,” a joke he made every year.
Last December had seemingly started just like every other. I was listening to Christmas songs on every car ride, I happily went to the Christmas tree farm to pick out a live tree with my family, and I spent way too much time meticulously picking out the perfect gift for every family member and friend. But, 12 days into what is meant to be the season of giving, we were given a wake-up call: Pop had passed away, 3 days after his 90th birthday.
Of course, this turned the holiday season into an emotional roller coaster. How was I meant to balance the grief I was experiencing with the surrounding messages of joy, cheer, and love? How was I meant to work through each little moment that reminded me of the happiest moments with my grandfather, but also reminded me of the pain that he would no longer be there?
In the year since the loss of my Pop, what I’ve learned is that you don’t need to choose one or the other. This holiday season, whether your loss is fresh, or years old, those memories and feelings will come. They will feel big, they will come out of nowhere, and sometimes they will take you out of the holiday spirit. And you are not alone in those feelings. I feel them too, unexpectedly, and earth-shakingly.
This year, I found small ways to honor my Pop. By visiting his grave, popping a bow on my head at the Christmas tree, and giving back to my communities in the way he taught me to. These things, although they will not bring him back, honor his memory. They celebrate all of the good times while keeping space for the grief this time of year has sprouted for me because love is what gives this season magic, and my love for him is not lost – it lives on with me.
If you are struggling with grief this holiday season, there are resources available to help you through this difficult time. You can visit Grief in Common for grief support resources and Bereavement and Grief | Mental Health America for more information on grief. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is also available 24/7 for support.