I sat down today to write about grief during the holidays. I started and stopped. Wrote a paragraph and then deleted it.
I left the page to read someone else’s wise words, picking through the web of loss that spans the globe, searching for insight from others that have traveled this path before me and found grace in the process. I took a long walk. I asked my mother (gone from this earthy plane for over two years now) for guidance.
After some time, I came back to the page and saw that two words remained at the top of the page: Grief is.
And I recognized this as the truest statement that could be made on the subject. Grief is!
We try to pin it down, give it stages and names. We try to understand it so that we can “work” with it and ultimately attempt to make sense of it.
But I can no more control grief then I can control the fact that my mother has died. It sneaks up on me at inopportune times. And I find my only choice is to be open to it. Because this is how she remains with me. Shutting out grief means shutting out any connection I still have with her.
Making Friends With Grief
Making friends with my grief has been an important part of my process. A way of learning to live with the inevitable. Feeling into it makes the entire experience richer, deeper, more vibrant.
Joy and pain do this sublime dance together. They are intrinsically interwoven, one cannot exist fully without the other. When my first born took his first breath, the overwhelming love brought with it a profound awareness of the one that came before. The one that never got to breathe. But that only made my love bigger.
Pain and pleasure exist on a continuum and resisting one means never fully embracing the other. When I see my late father-in-law’s smile creep across my seven year old’s face, it is an opportunity to feel the depth of love that still lives on.
Keeping the Door Open
I don’t want to contract at the thought of another holiday without my mom. I don’t want to close the door between this world and the next for fear of feeling heartache. So, as the air begins to sparkle with holiday lights and the insistent “promise” of joy-filled gatherings begins to feel more like an obligation than a blessing, I choose to open even more. Open to the full experience.
There is release in both laughter and tears. There is connection to be found by speaking their names and inviting them to the table; acknowledging their continued presence in our lives.
Culinary offerings were one of my mother’s love languages. This was how she nourished those she cared about. And along with the similarly titled book, she passed along her joy of cooking. I use that book and her love to continue this legacy.
Memories of Food
When the season feels overwhelming and I struggle to show up in the midst of so much manufactured celebration, I fall back on this intimacy I still share with her. I let myself cry into the soup and my empty hands find soft dough to knead. When festivity feels burdensome, I bring fresh baked bread and my mother’s heart.
She is there as I tell people that this was her grandmother’s recipe. When they compliment the cookies, I remember her hands on mine as she taught me to roll out the pastry and carefully cut out shapes that were impossibly delicate and thin.
I invite her in. I invite all of them in. All that came before me and have left before me. Even the ones that carried complicated love, imperfect or confused love that could not be adequately expressed with the human tongue.
The candle that burns at the end of the counter is not my mother, but it reminds me that her light is ever present in my life, and that makes it easier to let the joy of the holiday season in, a little bit at a time.
To read more about grief during the holidays: Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories for Handling the Holidays After Loss: Dr. Gloria Horsley, Dr. Heidi Horsley: 9780983639916: Amazon.com: Books
Read more on grief: Dealing with Guilt While Grieving – Open to Hope