November through January are the months in each year where families and friends gather together to eat excessive amounts of food, swap thoughtful, most of the time very expensive gifts, and countdown the minutes until the upcoming new year. You would think that within these three months the majority of people would be bursting at the seams filled with happiness and cheer, right? Well, despite the joy and positivity that things like commercials, movies, television shows, and songs often like to portray, there are several individuals like myself—maybe even like you—who do not find themselves to be very happy during this time of the year. For many, the holiday season is just another reminder of the ones they’ve lost. No matter whether the loss be recent or—as in my case—eleven years ago, the hurt remains the same, and that hurt amplifies during holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year.
Every and anything about the holiday season reminds you of him or her. A smell of homecooked food wafting through your nose suddenly transports you back to the days where you’d study her cooking and preparing food in the kitchen. The way her hands move so efficiently, but with care as she chops vegetables or stirs roux or wipes down the cabinets of sugar and salt debris. The sound of song lyrics from your past resonates through your eardrums and you then begin to reminisce about the way he introduced you to that song; the two of you would sing so hard that veins would pop out of the sides of y’all’s necks and y’all’s throats would turn hoarse. When you sit down at the dinner table and your eyes land on that one empty seat, that one place mat that is now void of any plate filled with food. Your heart begins to burn at the thought of them and how they used to occupy that empty space. How their jokes would make you laugh so hard your cheeks would tremble. How their stories, composed of pure knowledge and wisdom, would leave you feeling whole afterwards. The tone of their voice when they said “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” or anything for that matter. The feeling of their hands intertwined into yours, your warmth mingling with theirs as you both embraced into a tight hug, and the features which made them who they were from the strands of hair on their head to the toes on their feet; these are the things people like me—people like us are reminded of during the holidays.
It’s hard to be happy and celebrate here on Earth when the ones we cared so deeply about are no longer with us. It seems impossible to fully enjoy yourself when in the back of your mind there’s this tick constantly nagging at your conscience reminding you that you’re still grieving, that he or she is gone and they will never come back. Guilt wraps around your heart at the thought of forgetting them during such a joyous time of the year, so you always feel the need to commemorate them in some way. Your brain scrambles trying to piece together fragments of what they sounded like, what they looked like, how their skin felt underneath the pads of your fingertips; shame overcomes you once you realize that you can no longer clearly remember the small details let alone the bigger ones.
I am not writing this to remind you of how depressing the holidays can be nor am I am sharing these words to make you feel bad or convince you to “move on” from your grieving. I say these things because I’ve been there many times. I’ve smelled the smells, I’ve heard the songs, I’ve stared solemnly at empty seats and place mats, I’ve tried to remember the intricate details about them, and I’ve failed at doing so. I write this article not to bring anyone down, but instead to encourage you all to embrace yourselves and the present moments around you. This holiday season—especially with the year we’ve had—we all should practice a little bit more gratitude. Not saying that you aren’t already grateful for the people and things that you have, but I’m saying be grateful for each and every single aspect of life right down to the minutes which pass you by. Be mindful. Be humble. Be thankful. Look at your life as it is happening right now instead of how happened in the past or as you hope it will happen in the future. Recognize that your higher power kept you alive to see another holiday season, and that you still have people—if not many, then at least that one person in your life who is still with you, who is still ready and willing to celebrate and spread happiness.
I know it is hard to both grieve and enjoy yourself during the holidays, and I’m in no way suggesting that you fake being happy or in good spirits at any point. I’m also not telling you that you can’t reminisce about the loved one(s) you’ve lost because you have every right to. However, I am advising you to take a tiny step back from your grieving, close your eyes, inhale the deepest breath you can, and then exhale it completely. Afterwards, open your eyes and observe your surroundings. Try not to think too much about the people and things you’ve lost or you might lose, but think about all the amazing people and things you’ve gained and you still have. Remember that it’s okay to grieve and that it’s one hundred percent normal to feel unhappy during the holiday season; however, also note that the ones who are gone are never truly gone, and that they would want you to find a piece of happiness this holiday season even if it’s only for a little while.