Written by Dr. Chelsea Sanders
This is a blog post about grief during the holidays. Specifically, grief related to death of a loved one. This is not a how-to guide on grieving during the holidays. This is not even a what-to-expect when you’re grieving post. This is really just a psychologist sharing her experience of grief during the holidays.
This will be my third Christmas without my brother, Brandon. He died unexpectedly in March of 2020. The weekend that the world shut down was the weekend my world imploded. I felt absolutely eviscerated. The devastation surfaces to my chest now, as I type these words. Of course it does. How could it not?
Maybe you know the feeling. The heartache of loss has the ability to cut like a knife (such a cliché but accurate), and the nature of loss is such that it doesn’t cut just once. It’s over and over again, like a cruel defiance of time and space, often taking us by surprise; whether it’s a song that comes on during your commute home, a photo that flashes across your memories on social media, or a physical location steeped in shared experiences from the past. The frequency with which these triggers occur and intensity of their impact vary, and seem to be especially related to our willingness to feel them and the acuity of our grief. For me, in the days following his death, I saw Brandon in absolutely everything – the ocean, the sky, the trees, the grass. Everything shimmered with a vibrance that was his lifeforce, somehow both omnipresent and out of my reach. My love for him was amplified, and thus, so was the pain.
I think of him and feel my loss daily, but these gut-wrenching moments are fewer and farther between. That is, until holiday season emerges with the kickstart of his birthday in early fall. It never fails to surprise me. Despite my best efforts to prepare, I find myself surrounded by precious holiday memory landmines, stumbling through one weary step at a time. They don’t take me out completely like they once threatened to, but sometimes I am weighed down for days, less motivated or interested in things I enjoy. Sometimes I move through with laser focus as if I could erase the pain from my periphery, only to collapse into a puddle of tears at the first sign of stillness.
What do I do with this? How do I go on? There is no secret here; just keep going. No one and nothing can take away the pain of losing someone you love. Nor should it. You can’t really do anything to hurry up your healing, but here’s what I’ve learned about what can make the healing harder:
“Your body may be gone, I'm gonna carry you in.
In my head, in my heart, in my soul.”
All of the clinicians will be contributing to the blog!