I can barely remember the first Christmas without my mom. I was 22 and weeks away from moving my entire life to New York City from my small town in Indiana. She had been gone nearly seven months, and it felt like she had been gone for both fifteen minutes and fifteen years.
I remember being frail, a bit underweight because my grief manifested as a lack of hunger. It was as if nourishing myself was a disservece to her memory, or perhaps I just wanted to control something. I remember a holiday party with college friends, a little black dress and a purple eyeliner that made me feel like a person even though my grief made me feel like a shadow of one.
Thanksgiving had been horrible. The family decided to split up—my sister and I going one place and my dad and my other sister going to another. Something about Wisconsin, something about needing different things.
That Christmas we made the best of things. I remember dancing in my Aunt’s kitchen like we do every Christmas Eve, but it was a whirlwind. We said prayers asking God to bless the ones we had lost that year. My mom was now part of our Christmas Eve prayers. At the kitchen table where she used to sit with her big glass of wine, laughing with her head falling backward was now an empty space, the table was a lot quieter. The way she would sing the loudest and challenge my Uncle during trivia games, the way she curled up on the couch with whatever family member was having a hard time and made them feel seen and heard. Her reading the story, again for the twentieth time, of Jesus in her soft church voice, as if we didn’t know what happens at the manger. It was all missing. She was on our prayer list, I couldn’t believe it.
I do a lot of work with people in transition. Sometimes they have lost someone, someone that they loved dearly and their new reality is just too unbearable to navigate alone. Sometimes they’ve lost themselves, they go searching inside of them for answers and clarity and they just see a bunch of wires crossed, clarity is nowhere to be found. Sometimes they’ve lost a job and they can’t stand the idea that their identity is now of the “unemployed person”, they want to fix it immediately, get their pride back.
There is one thing that I always tell my clients, especially when they feel like they are breaking in half—that they can’t do one more thing; I tell them, “please understand, that your emotionality is completely normal. These feelings, they are oh so normal, you are not broken, there is nothing wrong here, this is the most appropriate reaction to where life has led you. Do not be afraid of your own self.”
It’s impossible to write about the balance of finding joy in the hard times and letting the feelings wash over you because they are there and there is nothing you can do about it. There is no map that I can draw that will tell you to turn here and then here, oh and then jog to the right and then there will be the treasure you seek: relief. However, I can promise that relief comes—perhaps not on your exact timeline but eventually.
I wish I had a map. What I do have is an approach to loss, one that is deeper than you might find in the familiar faces you wish would just say the right thing. “Why can’t I be understood?”. Because you can’t. Because your loss is uniquely yours and those that try to understand are too afraid of the depth of what you feel. They do their best, but they can’t possibly begin to understand your heart the way you do. That relationship is so sacred. I hope that you have that one special friend that can come sit on your couch and not attempt to fix your heart but simply love you where you are—we all need one of those.
If you’ve lost something, yourself, someone you love, a job you coveted or perhaps you’ve lost your way..I want to offer you this ritual that I wish I had that first Christmas. It’s not going to fix anything, but it will provide you comfort when you feel misunderstood, it will allow you to take the time you deserve to reflect and honor yourself. I hope it brings you both joy and peace this Holiday Season, both are things you profoundly deserve.
Environment: You can do this ritual anywhere but for heightened emotional support I recommend you light one of your favorite candles, turn down the lights, and pop on a low key playlist. You can try this one from Spotify: Totally Stress Free . Make sure you are cozy, bring your favorite blanket or your yoga mat to support you on the floor.
Tools: You can do this verbally or choose to grab a piece of paper or a journal and write down your answers to these prompts, both are equally powerful.
Take three deep breaths and as you breathe out each time I want you to say out loud, “I accept the feelings that I am feeling and I release all judgement and fear”.
Close your eyes and bring to your mind your favorite memory of the thing that you lost—if you are feeling like you have lost your own way I want you to recall a memory of when you felt completely free and like yourself. (This memory may be from childhood, or teenage years or maybe it’s a memory from 6 months ago, doesn’t matter). Sit with this memory for awhile and let the goodness of this memory take you over.
As the memory starts to fade (hard emotions may return at this time, or it may be hard to observe this memory, that is completely normal), I want you to thank that memory for what it gave you—you may feel more emotion when doing this. This is natural, continue to stay through the emotion and try not to judge it. If you’ve pulled up a memory of yourself at a different time I want you to imagine embracing the you from the past and thanking yourself.
Take another deep breathe and on the exhale I want you to ask out loud, ‘What guidance do you offer me at this time?” Stay quiet and still for at least two minutes and let the old you or the person you lost have time to share their guidance. I know this might feel a little strange, but when we are tapping into our authenticity there is always something we already know that we need quiet to actually hear. Write down or take note of what comes up.
If you lost someone, I want you to tell them the story of what has happened since they left. Paint them a picture of your plans for the Holidays, tell it to them like a story as if they were sitting with you. What do you want them to know? What do you want to say to them that you didn’t get to say? You can speak this out loud or write it in your journal.
ALT: If you are feeling lost yourself or are facing a hard transition period I want you to paint a picture for yourself of what you wish were true. What kind of feelings do you want to feel? Where do you wish you were? Who do you wish was with you? What would it be like if everything you dreamed for yourself was happening? Speak this out loud or write it in your journal. I really want you to let this visual wash over you—as if you are actually there and these things are your reality.
To close I want you to take three more deep breaths. On the exhale I want you to say out loud, “I welcome guidance and comfort to navigate this chapter of my life. I know I am not alone on this journey and inside of me is the strength to carry on. When I feel lost I know I can call on my loved ones to guide me. I release my fears about my future and let go of the expectations I have for myself and for others.”
Finally, take note or write in your journal what came up for you during this exercise. What is new for you? What will you do differently to give yourself support during the Holiday? How will you honor the person that you lost or your vision for your future during this time? Make a commitment to yourself to take care of your needs in the coming weeks.
There are no words for grief that really make any sense of it, but if I leave you with anything it is to give yourself more space and time than you think you need. The relief is in the slowness.
Happiest of Holidays to you and your loved ones.