It’s that time of the year again, where we sing about what a wonderful time of the year it is. Hot cocoa, warm fireplaces, Friendsgiving’s and family gatherings galore make this time of year such a special and beautiful time for so many people. Although this season is full of love and giving, this year is hard for me because it is my first year without my sister. Last year on December 5th I lost someone very dear to me, my big sister, Kimberly. She was 28-years old and died from a 10-year battle with diabetes.
Her death was a shock to many of us and the grieving process has been a never-ending cycle. I still remember the day I found out: It was the last day of school and finals for the fall semester and I went out to eat celebratory Chipotle with the ladies in my cohort. When I arrived home, I was spending time with my husband and my father called me. This was odd because I had already talked to him earlier in the day and he told me we would talk later in the week because he had a lot on his plate. I instantly thought something was wrong, and I was right. The rest of the conversation is a blur, except for the tears and screams for my husband to come console me. Each day after that was filled with funeral plans, sharing the news to family and friends and trying to accept what had took place.
I can say at this point, I have experienced every stage of the grief cycle on repeat more times than my High School Musical CD in ‘06. All of the advice and support in the world on how to move forward didn’t prepare me for the adjustment of life without her. Death is something to adapt to and funerals definitely suck, but it was knowing that she wouldn’t be there for family gatherings or be the cool aunt to my children that hurts me more than ever. Time surely has helped make this process move forward, but I am learning nothing gets easier- just less unbearable.
During this time of the year I am experiencing a lot of firsts without her, including this holiday season. I am writing this post because I wanted to share some tips, I am finding helpful in my own life for those who are also missing a loved one around the table this year:
Acknowledge the Holidays will be different
Acceptance is the first part of preparation. If you know that the holidays will bring up more than just the “feels” you may want to confront this head on and think about what things need to be in place to support, you during this season. I know this will be a hard time for me because my birthday is also in December on top of the regular holidays so I am intentionally setting aside time for myself, especially after finals, to relax, reset and let the emotions roll in on my time off. This leads me to my next point…
Allow yourself to feel all the feels
One of the things that people repeatedly told me after my sister passed was “you’re so strong, I would’ve never known that you were going through that.” My strength in adversity was something I always prided myself on, and culturally as a black woman, I felt was appropriate. When I heard people saying this however, I truly felt shame because I knew it wasn’t my strength but avoidance and displacement of my feelings. The truth was I felt I was falling into pieces, but with the stresses of school, internship, work and being a wife- I felt like I didn’t have the time to feel my feelings- things had to get done! Suppressing my feelings seemed like the best option but in actuality it made me feel more anxiety and stress than I had when my sister actually died.
I allowed my life and the people in it dictate my healing process and learned the hard way that was more harmful than helpful. By honoring my feelings by allowing myself to process them helped me start the healing at my own pace, in my own time, and in a way that worked for me.
Be CLEAR about your wants and needs during the holiday season
There are A LOT of expectations and responsibilities around the holidays and if this holiday season you need a break- sis, take one. This may look like not cooking every dish for the holidays, or not hosting the game nights, or just spending some time alone until you are ready for all of the family festivities again. This year I will be spending Christmas and my birthday with my husband and my dog instead of spending time with my big family like I usually do because it is what I need, and my family and friends will respect that. Eventually I will be ready for the big festivities again, but this year, ice cream and snuggling up with my man by the fire is good enough for me, and honestly all I can handle.
Some people may want the opposite, but advice still stands- be realistic, set boundaries, and speak up- it may feel hard to do during the pressures of the holidays, but you will feel better in the end knowing you did something for yourself that you needed.
Feel free to talk about your loved ones
Let’s be real- grief is uncomfortable to go through, and uncomfortable to watch others go through- this does not mean you have to filter yourself from talking about memories and feelings you have for your loved one. It’s a part of the healing process. This person was key player in the story of your life. You should feel free to tell that story how and when you want.
Find a productive support system
When someone first dies, it can feel like everyone is your support system, plainly because everyone offers their support- friends, families, even strangers on Facebook. After a couple of months, it can feel like that support has died down and once social media posts have moved, so has everyone else, and you are still in this place that feels hopeless. Something that helped me was I found the productive people in my life and utilized them as my support group. Now when I say productive, I do not mean the “you’ll get through it” or “ he’s in a better place now” people – I mean the people in your life that will let you talk their ear off and cry when you need it. I have found those people in my family, my childhood girlfriends, and my cohort at Baylor. My support system has made this process bearable and has been my strength when I didn’t have any.
I am still new to experiencing grief in this way and am still learning about all of the things I need, but I hope these tips can help encourage and support those of you who are grieving this holiday season. Things may not feel merry and bright, but by taking some intentional steps to protect our space and our process, we can start working towards those warm holiday feelings again.