“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 E. Casey, MSW, MFA, is an author, a licensed mental health clinician, a certified bereavement group facilitator, and a certified life coach. Throughout the past 25 years, Susan has worked in hospice, in-patient, and home-based settings with teens and adults, and taught numerous courses to executive leaders and clinicians. Currently, Susan works for a measurement-based care organization, providing clinical coaching to therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists countrywide to improve mental health outcomes for youth and adults. Susan’s blog on her website, susanecasey.com, chronicles her grieving process following the death of her younger brother. Her fiction has won numerous awards, including first place in the PEN/Nob Hill Literary Contest and Green Writer’s National Literary Contest. Rock On: Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Grief is her first work of nonfiction published on February 14, 2020 by Library Tales Publishing. Both Susan’s professional and creative work have been guided by her deep belief that every individual has purpose and inherent strengths and deserves the opportunity to reach their own unique potential. Susan lives in Maine with her husband Steve and golden retriever Indy.

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