“Twinkling lights, horse-drawn carriages and the Sugar Plum Fairy all aglow. Evergreens and mistletoe, and Gingerbread houses lined in a row. Stockings hung by wood stoves, dogs curled up on the floor, as we sit and rock with our memories knocking at our door.”

Time is measured from the moment our loved ones inhale their last breath. We hear the twitching of the clock’s hands, the tick-tock, tick-tock, reminding us that time passes, even if it feels as though we’re trapped in some elusive nightmare—one we’ll never awaken from until our own heart beats a final beat.

The sun inches up and down over tree lines, leaving streaks of pink along the horizon. Stars dot the sky. Full and halves and slivers of moon glow. Rainbows bow after storms. Seasons pass outside windows. Tick-tock. We feel connected to this world only when leaves grow brittle, grass, yellow and crisp, because pieces of ourselves have dried up, fallen, crumbled in that same way. At least this was my experience when my brother died on Valentine’s Day.

As a therapist, I was aware of the stages of grief, and reminded four seasons must pass before life will get better, but that mountain snaked up the through the clouds, too high to climb, too far to drive. Neon post signs stretched out, mile after mile, before me, blinking all the firsts I’d have to endure without him.

“I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it. Please, God, just take me, too.” This was my prayer on a night my heart wept, and a profound understanding crept into my consciousness. Perhaps it was the voice of God, or the angels, or my brother, or my own soul. I don’t know, but I heard, “Joy and grief are wedded; where there is one, there is the other.”

In the quiet, Grief and Joy held my hands. One on the right; the other on the left. When I gazed into Joy’s eyes, I was light, airy, alive. When I turned to Grief, I became heavy, desperate, alone.

Before that night, I believed my brother grabbed Joy’s hand and swept her up into the afterlife, leaving me alone with Grief, squeezing my hand so tight, bones snapped. But I was wrong. Joy stood beside me, cradling years of love-soaked memories—my brother’s and mine; the ones I kicked and shooed away until I understood this: I wasn’t honoring the light he shined while he was here when I shunned and turned my back on JOY, the essence of who he was and is still.

Both his life and his death have changed me for good, and for the good, because I know that he carried Joy into—not out of—my life. This holiday, I embrace our memories, feel his spirit fill the room. I honor and celebrate the miracles he brought into this world and continues to in the space he left behind.

I invite each of you, as you move into, and through, the holiday season, to honor your loved one’s spirit by opening the door wide and welcoming Joy back into your life, and into your heart. Close your eyes, feel their spirits well up inside of you. I promise you, they’ll be smiling, too.



Susan Casey

Susan Casey

Susan Casey, MSW is a Licensed Mental Health Clinician who currently works as the National Director of Communications for Providence Service Corporation (PSC). Susan completed her Masters of Social Work degree in 1996 from the University of New England. She completed her Masters of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing in 2009 from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast low-residency program. Throughout the past 18 years Susan has worked in hospice, and in in¬patient and home-based settings with adolescents with severe behavior and mental health issues. Additionally, Susan has been teaching a therapeutic writing class for incarcerated youth for the past several years to both inform her novel and to help these young women heal from their traumatic experiences. Susan is currently seeking representation for her YA novel, Here’s the Truth. To date, excerpts from Here’s the Truth have won awards in the following contests: Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance Literary Contest: Honorable mention in Novel Excerpt category; Green Rivers Writers National Literary Contest: First Place in Novel Excerpt category ; PEN/Nob Hill Soul-Making Literary Contest: First Place in the Novel Excerpt category. Currently, Susan is finishing up her second novel, The Butterfly Girl. Both Susan’s professional and creative work have been guided by her deep belief that every individual has a purpose and inherent strengths and deserves the opportunity to reach their own unique potential. Susan works with kids, incarcerated youth, and adults to help them identify their deepest passions to live a full and thriving life. Susan lives in Maine with her two golden retrievers, Indy and Maisey and her husband, Steve.

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