The halls are decked out with glittered-things galore, our stockings are hung on the mantle with care, and one Christmas tree is glimmering – trimmed to the top because of an unexpected amount of holiday cheer. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Oh wait. Yes I could.  Dear Brother, where are you? If only you could be here this very second!

Indeed, I find it funny how the holiday seasons can be like that.  At one point, I can find myself totally calm and in a state of complete bliss, especially after hearing my favorite piano rendition of “What Child is This?”  But then it hits me, something is triggered internally, and boy, am I bitter!

Decorating for Christmas is another instance in which I find myself merry and full of holiday cheer at one moment, and then — SNAP — the tears begin flowing.  If only I had a Kleenex for every time that happened! In a Hallmark store, for example, I might see Christmas cards for “Brothers” or “Sisters.” The design and layout of the cards are lovely, which is something I can appreciate; the fact that I cannot give or receive cards such as those anymore is what brings up feelings of sadness.

How odd that is, yet how awesome too – to go from one end of the emotion spectrum to the other in a matter of seconds.  The human mind must be quite something if it can, at one and the same time, think in the present and in the past.

Around this time of year, I often think about how I would give anything to spend a moment with my brother – wish him a “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy New Year!” directly – face-to-face.  As wonderful as that might be, I also think of the many experiences I have had since his death, moments that I doubt would have happened had he survived.  It seems grief is quite a paradox; after all, it is the price one pays for loving another.

To have only the joyful emotions running through me would be fantastic. So too would the chance to see once again those I love who have died, particularly my sibling.  Since that cannot happen, I will take both – the happy and the sad.

Likewise, I will welcome the fact that on one hand I love Christmas and all I associate with it. Those associations however can cause quite a stir within me; and so, on the other hand, I will understand why I have so much angst this time of year rather than guilt myself away from those raw and bitter feelings.  I will appreciate Christmas trees, stockings and gifts galore, but I will also acknowledge the softness and comfort a Kleenex can bring, and I will take one for the road.

On second thought … make that one box of Kleenex!

Kate M. McGrath, MA

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Kate McGrath

Kate McGrath

My journey began on March 22, 1986. There is nothing any more or less significant about my story than there is another person’s story; however, my story is unique nonetheless. I am twenty-four years old, a graduate student working towards a degree in Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in Thanatology, and an admirer of the simple gifts in life: refreshingly cool air, hot apple cider, the way leaves pick up and float gently in the air. My story has had its share of challenging moments, one of which was the loss of my older brother and only sibling, John. John was involved in an alcohol related motor vehicle accident. This event has undoubtedly shaped who I am today and who I want to become, professionally speaking, in my future. Grief, I have found, has an uncanny sense of humor – it can shake you to your core and simultaneously help you to see more clearly the importance of each day. While the death of my brother is a significant chapter in my life story, I have grown from that tragic experience and have come to realize that because of that chapter, I am at a place where I doubt I would be had my brother not died. I am grateful for the gift of my life; along with the many experiences I have had thus far – the bitter and the sweet, and have found that often, the bitter moments are what make life more significant. If my life had involved only moments of joy and happiness, I wonder if I would be able to recognize that individual quirks of others, someone’s voice, even the way someone’s clothes smell, are indeed memories to hold onto – from my experience, I believe those would have been taken for granted. All chapters in my life have been formative – and for all of those, I am grateful.

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