It's not that they're offering bad advice. In fact, it can all be quite valuable and certainly has withstood the test of time, and oftentimes, science too. What feels violently hard to swallow is simply that I'm being bombarded by the message (and from multiple, reputable sources, even) that as a widow, "tis the season for deep suffering" is the expectation and my only option. I'm being given my lines in the holiday pageant before it has even begun. My role as bereaved already written, to include a thorough description of what my emotional landscape from late November through early January shall be.
If you're seeking a survival guide for the holidays, you've come to the wrong place. You're so beautifully not wrong for looking for that, and I know there are many available for you elsewhere. Thank you for caring for YOU and seeking the specific support that feels most safe for your heart and soul this time around. I deeply acknowledge that the holidays can trigger our hearts and rustle up bigger, louder thoughts and emotions than we experience during the grind of day-to-day life (which are big and loud enough!!). I remember a not-so-distant time when I felt like I needed a map to proceed through life after loss, and believe me, they are out there in every size and scale.
Instead of telling you how to get where I think you should go, coming from a place I assume you're at, I'm offering you a topographical perspective allowing you to zoom out, take in the landscape, and point yourself in the direction of nourishing snack breaks for your soul and gorgeous vistas that make it easier to breathe. I'm not saying you won't encounter some harrowing, deeply felt experiences on your way there. I'm not suggesting you bypass the journey, pass go and collect $200 on the way. I'm in no way suggesting you skip the pain when it comes. We need it all. It's there to inform us. It's there to guide us. It's there to help us integrate and heal. With so much love, I want to ask you to take a deep breath and know this truth: you WILL survive this journey. You have what it takes to find your way. But, there's more.
Since the beginning of my story with loss, what felt most suffocating to me was that survival was the expectation and the summit; the only possibility. There is so much more than survival waiting for you on this journey. You are allowed to want and expect so much more than a lifetime of suffering from your grief and surviving your pain. One day as you walk along the path you'll come to a place where your head peeks above the treeline and you'll see a whole new landscape of previously unseen summits awaiting exploration. That view is the rest of your story, the life that's waiting for you.
If you're seeking a new perspective for your holiday season with grief as companion, then you've found your tribe.
If you're ready for permission to try a new way of seeing, stick around.
If you're craving to begin living beyond the limits of cultural understanding, I've got you.
If you're not there yet, that's real. I've been in that space too. Honor that and be true to you. Go tenderly. Take your time. We'll be here when you're ready.
If you're thirsty to lean in, feel, heal, and live, all with eyes wide open, let's begin.
I invite you to join me in excavating the truth of what's possible, and more importantly, what's true for you, from within the constantly and culturally reinforced mythology of grief during the holidays. My first holiday season as a widow, I over-performed to convince others, and mostly myself, that I was ok. I forced my way through, dedicated to creating some semblance of a proper holiday and found myself depleted and numb by Christmas eve. My second holiday season, I completely checked out in the anticipation of experiencing exactly the same as the previous year, did the minimum to get by and waited for the month of December to pass. My third holiday season as a widow, I'm ready to experience the holidays from a place of mindfulness, intentionally practicing compassion for my authentic emotional experience at every turn.
And so, a manifesto:
I want to live in a world where grief is allowed to co-exist with living. Where sad is both safe and permissible, and yet, never requisite. Where joy is welcomed in guilt-free, sans judgement and always accepted as truth. I want to live in a world where the realm of what's possible within our emotional landscape isn't restricted to happy OR sad, but seen instead for what it truly is: vast and endlessly shifting. I want to live in a world where people understand that the depth of our humanness allows us within the same breath to feel heartbreaking devastation and pure joy too, one no more "real" than the other. I want to live in a world where "authentic" is the new little black dress; it's always appropriate and looks good on everyone every time.
I believe life after loss gives us a rich perspective on living, loving, and gratitude that few can truly access without a journey into grief. I believe because of who is missing from my life, I am able to more deeply appreciate those I have by my side. I believe it's safe to feel the pain and cry out with the guttural ache of my soul when it comes. I believe it's beautiful to welcome the giddiness of laughter, dance and inspiration that springs from the soaring heights of my hungry-for-life belly when the time is right. I believe in allowing the authentic, true-for-you emotional experience to unfold and be expressed in ways that cultivate healing and integration.
I love finding ways to honor my late husband and incorporating his memory into our holiday celebrations in a way that feels safe and valuable to me. I love finding ways to honor who I'm becoming and incorporating joy, just for me, into this holiday season when it feels good. I love finding ways to honor who I'm becoming and incorporating quiet, just for me, into this holiday season when it feels right.
Here's what I know for sure: grief can make you feel invisible. To others, at first, and eventually to even yourself if you abandon what's true for you. When we numb with substance, use affection as filler, choose grief as identity or pack our calendars so full that emotion can't be felt in our exhaustion, we move farther from Self. There is no healing in disconnect; this is the place of forever pain so many believe is inherent to grief. Here's what I know for sure: grief is an intense journey we move through and the revelations, even more than the loss, will change our lives in powerful ways.
I am deeply committed to choosing what feels right and passing on what doesn't fit right now. I am committed to asking for what I need and letting go of what I don't. I am committed to changing my mind when I need to without making myself wrong. I am committed to self-care and blank space on my calendar with room to breathe in the in-betweens of holiday to-do's. I am committed to sobbing and smiling at the same time if it is the genuine expression of my soul in that moment. I am committed to saying "yes" to events that enrich me and "no" to any offer that doesn't feel like a gift. I am deeply committed to trusting simply that come what may, within my authentic experience, every last drip of me is worthy and so deeply loved. I am committed to giving up the need to perform, and release the need to live up to perceived expectations of me. Instead, I commit to living fully, authentically, out loud, and in the moment as it comes. I am deeply committed to hearing "I love you," when others aren't quite able to meet me where I am on my journey, I know they're doing their best. I am committed to sharing when it feels safe and holding back when that feels safer.
I remain open to seeing magic. I remain open to shedding tears. I remain open to being in this moment. I remain open to connections I choose and seeking refuge when that is what I most need. I remain open to learning from my pain. I remain open to experiencing joy. I remain open to experimenting with what feels right for me right now and making anything that doesn't pass the test simply information to guide my way forward instead of calling it (or me) a failure. I remain open to practicing gratitude. I remain open to experiencing longing. I remain open to knowing that gratitude and longing are allowed to walk hand in hand. I remain open to trusting that the depth of my pain is not a reflection of the way I honor him, my life is. I remain open to receiving what comes next on this journey of life, knowing what has been will always be part of my story, and therefore, me.
Go gently, my friends. Go tenderly. Go with compassion for what's real, always inviting in your authenticity. That's where your lines are for the holiday pageant: your truth. Go powerfully and fiercely forward with the courage to be vulnerable enough to know what's true for you, eyes wide open to whatever moment you find yourself inside of. It's all information. It's all medicine. It's all life.
Happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for you.
I talk about widows because I am a widow. This post, like many others, is about grief and life after loss which comes in the form of divorce, struggles with declining health, longing for financial and physical freedom, and death at all the ages from all causes too. Please know that the language I use is intentional as a direct and effective way to tell my story but it's intended to be inclusive of each of your stories too. Feel free to adjust pronouns and descriptors to support your journey. Thank you for being part of the conversation.