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4 Things I Learned About Grief After My Aunt Unexpectedly Died Days Before Christmas

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My life changed forever on Dec. 16, 2018. My mother called me to tell me my aunt, her only sister, had suddenly passed away. At that moment, my whole world came tumbling down before my eyes.

My aunt was more than just my aunt, she was my godmother. It was a week and a half before Christmas. Throughout my lunch date, I couldn’t stop crying. Logically, I knew I was grieving and even though I knew I had the skills and tools to cope, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I was hurting. My aunt was gone. She was no longer a phone call away; I could no longer hop on a plane to travel to Michigan to see her. Being states away didn’t help the grieving process. My heart was broken. I had to learn how to live my life without her. My aunt took her role as my godmother seriously. She was a second mother to me, especially when I was a teenager and my self-image was not the greatest. She took me to my high school orientation and came to as many of my softball games as she could. Between her and my mother, they were the loudest in the crowd every time I went up to bat. I wasn’t the best while playing softball but knowing I had both my mother and aunt in the crowd to cheer me on made me feel invincible. I felt like I could do anything and that I could do anything I put myself up to. She believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. I spoke to her almost every day when I was starting high school. I would call her just to tell her about my day, and I truly believe she looked forward to those calls.

Grieving can be a difficult process, but when you add the holidays into the mix, it becomes even more difficult. My uncle passed away 17 years before my aunt did, and his anniversary is a week and a half before hers. The first few weeks after my aunt passed were the toughest. There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to be able to hug my aunt, or pick up the phone and call my uncle just so I could cry about how much I missed my aunt. But I found support in my friends, who knew I was at my lowest. I reached out and was reminded to be patient with myself. Grief has no timeline and death works on its clock. If you are grieving this holiday season, I feel your pain and stand with you.

Here are a few tips to cope if you are dealing with grief or seasonal affective disorder this year:

1. Be patient with yourself.
If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, especially if you were close to them or loved them a lot, take all the time you need to process what has happened and to cope with how you feel.

2. Drink plenty of water. 
This is especially important if you are crying. Lots of crying can cause a headache, and drinking plenty of water can help to prevent that.

3. Feel how you feel.
Feel your feelings, don’t bottle them up. By acknowledging your feelings and feeling them, you are grieving healthily. While you can’t change what happened, you can recognize that it is OK to not be OK. Things get better.

4. Reach out to a loved one.
This is especially important. I am lucky enough to have a good support system. I had longtime friends reach out, as well as friends I had only met in the months before my aunt’s untimely passing. Knowing I could go to them was a tremendous relief. When my aunt passed, I was dealing with tremendous amounts of guilt and those feelings of guilt made me cry a bunch. One of my friends had taken me out for a movie to help me feel better. After the movie, we sat in the car down by the beach where I broke down in tears because I felt like a bad niece. My friend said to me, “These tears aren’t the tears of a bad niece, these tears are ones of a niece who loved her aunt dearly.” Those words are with me still, almost a year later.

If you are grieving this year, whether the loss is a fresh and new loss, or if, like me, this has been a year of firsts, know that I am with you. Please do not be ashamed to feel your feelings. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help. Grief never goes away, we learn to live with it, and this is totally normal.


Photo credit: Kerkez/Getty Images

Originally published: December 6, 2019
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