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When Grief Hits You During the Holidays

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Grief is unpredictable. It hits us when we’re the happiest we could be. We don’t live like everyone else. We keep out a wary eye because it surprises us like nothing else.

Isabelle and Aiden

My little brother Aiden lost his best friend, his brother Mattie, who he more commonly referred to as “Buddy.” On Halloween, Aiden was walking on air. He was full of happiness and excitement, dressed up as Aang from his favorite TV show “Avatar.” While we were getting ready for the party, Aiden suddenly fell apart. He went from from overflowing with excitement to being completely crushed with overwhelming sorrow, missing his Buddy, in two seconds flat. I picked him up and we sat on the couch and cried together. We talked about Mattie, and then 10 minutes later we were throwing a Halloween party. This is the roller coaster of grief. This is punch in the gut that knocks out all of your energy. It hits you when your down, and it hits you when you have a rush of joy and happiness.

Aiden doesn’t want to talk about how much he hurts, but when he does, I ask him questions to help him search through the tangled pain. I ask him, “What made you miss Mattie just now?” and we talk about how Mattie would’ve been excited for Halloween too. We talk about what he might have dressed up as or how if he was here we would all take turns watching him while everyone else gets ready for the party. We talk about all those little things that we miss. We talk about how Mattie was pure happiness, so when we get happy it makes us miss him. We talk about how when we feel happy, we feel Mattie, and sometimes that makes us cry.

Christmas rolls around, and it’s the same story. In the midst of happiness, a crushing pain waits around the corner. It hides behind the anticipation and excitement and then it hits us. Someone is missing; the excitement is not what it used to be. A part of us will never be physically present for the special moments again. It’s so very absent and distant but still seemingly near in some indescribable way. It’s the perfectly, horrid, chaotic blend of excitement and pain.

But here is a painful but somehow so very relieving fact: Emotions cannot be forced or destroyed. You’re allowed to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. Crying when you are surrounded by gifts and holiday charm is not wrong. Laughing when you know something is missing is in no way pushing away that person you’re missing even more. You’re giving yourself moments of relief to fuel you for when the pain hits again. Everything you’re feeling is valid and understandable. It can make you feel crazy if you don’t allow yourself to believe that and if you don’t give yourself grace.

Grief takes you in a full circle of emotions faster than you could believe possible. So what do we do? We let ourselves feel 100 percent of it, and we talk to untangle our feelings and thoughts. And when even that is too hard, we close our eyes and we just practice breathing.

Follow this journey here.

Originally published: December 30, 2015
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