She knows I understand. Anyone who knows or has ever known loss and grief (which is pretty much everyone) knows that the holidays are just hard. The reality is that on any given day, I carry my grief over the loss of my mom around with me. It doesn’t bother me like it used to. At first it felt so heavy, I could hardly lift it, hardly lift me. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. But then one day, on a particular day that I didn’t even notice or remember, it just stopped feeling that way. And then it was just part of the me that I am now. I take it with me to birthday parties and grocery stores. I read bedtime stories with it. It’s like an appendage – a true arm or a leg. At this point I might actually feel more strange if someone cut it off. That’s how used to having it with me I really am. But I truly don’t even think much of it anymore because of the general pace of life. You move, you go and you don’t think so much about it, about all the different parts of who you really are.And then the holidays come. And all of that stuff that keeps you busy gets busier until the actual holiday when it all stops. For at least one day you stop working and shopping and shuffling. And you feel it there again. It never really goes away. You just find the space to take stock of it more around a table lit full of faces you love, and noticing more the empty chairs of the ones who should be there and aren’t. There are aprons not getting worn and sweet potato dishes not being made. The smell of a perfume and finely pressed tablecloth – well somehow all of that finds that part of me that I try hard not to think about too much on any one day and it does feel heavier. Grief does. And it feels hard. And realistically, I can’t think of anyone coming to my Thanksgiving this year who doesn’t know that – who won’t in some way feel that – for my mom or their grandma. Or maybe my dad will think about his wife. Maybe my mother in law will think more on her father, my aunts about their sister. We will all feel it more as we think on those we’ve loved and lost, and none of us will lay down under it.
I think because in this not so new reality now, holidays are harder but maybe hard doesn’t have to be bad. I mean, it’s not good – you miss them. But hard is who you are now – not hardened to new love and life experiences, but stronger and built to weather loss and still find good in life. In some weird way, it’s a relief to feel it a little more at this time of year. If I can’t have her, then I can have the missing of her. My girl at the salon said the holidays are bittersweet and indeed they are. My only advice: with time they do become more of the sweet and less of the bitter. It is still both – it is still hard. It is still real. And you are still here loving and living and missing and feeling and honoring and remembering. That is the new you. The hard you. The holiday you. The sweet but not bitter you.