I feel like I can divide my Christmases into two categories: 1. Christmas before Josh died, and 2. Christmas after Josh died. Josh was ... is ... my big brother, and he died in a tragic car accident when he was 21.
I had just turned 18 and didn't have a clue what being an adult looked like, but I quickly “grew up” in the midst of this experience. I had no choice other than to be strong and help my family; at least, that’s what I believed at the time. I carefully pushed my grief to the side in order to support my mother and my younger sisters, while internalizing my perceived obligation to be an unshakable pillar of strength.
In the years that followed, I experienced the gauntlet of emotions and implemented an impressive variety of coping mechanisms. I accepted that I wasn't just saying goodbye to Josh’s past, but I was also losing out on his future. I’d never see him get married or have a family. He’d never see me graduate from college, or run a race, or take one of my yoga classes. The pain and struggle of finding a new normal shook me and my family to a bleak, unhopeful place. We have each, however, worked endlessly at finding this new normal, and I’m so grateful to share that my family is redefining and recreating our experiences as a result of our spiritual journeys.
The 10-year anniversary of this accident is just a few months away, and the only lasting peace I’ve had from it comes in knowing that I can share with and inspire others, hold a place of compassion for hurting hearts, and add a little tenderness into the world through a new kind of empathy that I’ve cultivated. I hear you and see you, and I know that Christmas, the most elevated time for love and union within our society, is one of the hardest holidays to sit with while processing death, or feeling a grieving heart.
So, whether you've recently (or not so recently) lost a loved one, here are a few suggestions to “make it through Christmas” while respecting your emotions and grief:
1. If you feel like crying, then cry.
I know that this has almost become cliché, but so many of us still hold back on feeling the authentic emotions related to our experiences. I watched as my mom would selflessly hold back her tears and her pain on Christmas morning, in an attempt not to “bring us down.” I still knew she was hurting, and anyone who truly loves you will allow you time and space to sit with your sadness. Give yourself permission to feel, and remember that all emotions are temporary. The longer you hold yourself back from crying, the more painful it will be for you and for those around you.
2. During your celebrations, acknowledge the person you miss.
I definitely have come to understand during the last 10 years that we have so much trouble processing death because we're hyper-attached to this physical experience. It's understandable, but there's a beautiful freedom in being able to connect spiritually with anyone who you love. My brother often comes to yoga class with me now, shares a delicious green smoothie, or watches a sunset with me. Why? Because I invite him. I connect with his fun-loving spirit and hold that feeling of love, beauty, and amazement in my heart. Try it! Perhaps you could light a candle, say a prayer, or do a simple meditation before or during, say, your dinner, in order to acknowledge that although your loved one may be physically absent, he or she is still very much a part of you and therefore a part of all of your experiences.
3. Tap into gratitude.
List everything you are grateful for about the person you are grieving. Saturate yourself with all of the wonderful memories, experiences, and things which that person brought into your life, and allow it to encompass and protect you. I've found so much comfort in simply feeling gratitude that I was able to share 18 years of my life with my brother, and I am further comforted by pulling out all of the love, laughter, and happiness he brought into my life during that time. Choosing to focus on your blessings and what you are grateful for will transform your mood and your outlook — I promise!
I believe there's nothing more powerful than being authentic, being present, and being grateful in all attempts to work through tough stuff. These are just a few ideas to help you navigate the grieving process, especially during a time of heightened emotions. If you've experienced grief and found some other great ways to cope, please leave a comment and let us all know! We are all in this journey together, every step of the way.
And most importantly, if you are hurting during this holiday season, please feel encouraged in knowing that there is a world of love and compassion within you, that you can access at any time. I honor the light in each of you. Namaste.