Grief is Grief, Holiday Madness

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

. . . and every day. When you have a seriously elfed up year, that’s pretty much how you roll.

Image by iSTOCK photo

There’s no way to candy cane sugarcoat this. If you were hoping for a ‘ho ho ho’ holiday, you’ll have to wait a year. Though hopefully we each found our share of happy moments, the year itself was an epic suck. Of course, we’ve all had a few-less than merry Christmases. In fact, many have seen some pretty tough entire years. But this one was definitely uncharted territory full of mask mandates, scary death tolls and toilet paper wars. One thing is sure, the year was certainly one for the books — and the holidays are its last chapter.

Will this be the year that creepily cheerful Elf-on-the-Shelf goes on strike? Who could blame him if he did? No matter how the halls are decked with sanitizer, the double-jointed imp might take a pass, leaving tired parents to explain why the obsequious little tattletale never showed. Then again, they might be a tad relieved that the little sucker decided to snooze the season out. Traditions die hard but, but given the year, if a sprite does show, I suspect it will be Chuckie.

No one ever promised a holly, jolly sugarplum world. Even the most glittering of holiday trees hide their share of crawly things among the branches — just to keep you on your toes. Somewhere, along life’s highway, Christmas carols hit a sour note, and our innocent beliefs in magical reindeers and sleighs go the way of childhood. This year, though, you have a hall pass from DIY’ing the perfect holiday. It’s just not that kind of year.

“There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief and pain and I’ll be happy Christmas once again” The Eagles

I have a pretty good idea about holidays that somehow aren’t all that. When my husband died a few years ago, two months before Christmas, it topped my list of terrible, no good, very bad times. This year, thanks to COVID-19, many will suffer their own heartbreaking holiday. To those who lost loved ones, every year thereafter will be Christmas 2.0. There’s no way to sidestep life-changing grief; no magic wand to erase a pandemic. But, I suspect those grieving loss this year from that pandemic would be the first to say, give every precaution your best shot. Giving up a holiday group hug for one year, skipping the major feast and trading in mistletoe for a mask, don’t seem like the biggest ask. Compared with a deadly viral alternative, missing one Norman Rockwell holiday seems like a piece of cake. Okay, maybe not fruitcake because that’s too easy, but you get the message.

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Grief is Grief, Holiday Madness

The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Turkey Day

. . . or not. The thankfulness menu is up to you.

Image by iStock

COVID is taking a big bite out of Thanksgiving this year. With cases surging across the country, even the turkeys are rethinking where to go. Trying to adhere to medical experts about how to handle Thanksgiving may not be easy but then, what is? Deciding to ditch a family holiday isn’t the most appetizing but it’s the most practical and loving in a time of pandemic. With facts spread on the table,  my family peeps decided to celebrate within our own nest of people, those we live with all year long. Good plan. Of course, for me, and others widowed or single, a family bubble is a pod of one. I’m not saying suddenly-solo life is desperately lonely or stark, at least when you become used to it – or resigned, as the case may be. But, at times like these, when ‘who you co-habit with’ dictates your holiday place settings, it’s definitely a lot less inviting. (On the bright side,  there are a lot less dishes to wash.)

Having become a sudden widow 5 years ago, I’m not a stranger to ‘home alone’. It was a gradual trip from shock and sadness to the ‘it is what it is’ mode today. Reluctantly, I became nearly comfortable in my very altered nest. Then the pandemic hit. Then, along with the rest of the world, everything became a giant fruit basket upset; a shitstorm of confusing resets and restarts. For those who felt the crushing loss of loved ones from COVID this year, it was a one-two punch. Alloted no traditional grieving time to adapt or adjust to a world beset by death and fear, those left behind sit where thanks and hope are hard to find.

Time, however, if not a healer, does allow us to adapt. It paves the twisted walk through the most traumatic of life experiences. But it offers no instruction book on how to battle an invisible, voracious predator. We bumbled through rules and remedies, written, rescinded and re-written every day. We saw medicine and politics clash in spectacularly wanting ways. People became deathly sick and many, many families saw loved ones leave, who never came back. With more than a quarter million people dead from this epidemic, families will have a glaringly empty holiday chair that we, who’ve lost our own loved ones, know too well.

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” Mary Oliver

2020 was a wildfire (yep, we had them, too) and holidays didn’t fare well at all. Easter passed us by; ditto Mother’s Day. Thanksgiving, and most likely Christmas/Hanukkah, will join the year’s hit parade of ‘things that didn’t go as planned’ – or at all. The famous Norman Rockwell painting of family gathered around the big roasted bird isn’t on the menu this year. For most, this is a one-off holiday. Some feel secure that holidays will soon be returned intact, as normal as the proverbial apple pie. To others, those whose lives have been eternally altered, this year begins one of endless ‘new normals’ where things may never look the same.

The deadly losses this year makes ol’ Turkey Day seem like a nothing burger. Those desperately missing their ‘person’ wouldn’t question or argue what guidelines they need to obey to keep their loved one alive and safe. Remembering not being able to see or say goodbye to someone who might have been their world, would give world to save them. So here’s a thought: stuff the self-pity and pass the gratitude. If your family bubble comprises 2, 4 or 7, be thankful even with a nixed holiday invite list, you still have someone to talk to, laugh with and share the damn pumpkin pie, every day. This Turkey Day an anomaly but if we continue to test the limits, it maybe become the norm. Our choices matter.

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Grief is Grief

An Epidemic of Grief

Grief comes in an assortment of sizes, tailored to fit each type of loss. When you feel like the entire world has changed, grief can’t be far behind.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

It’s been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. I don’t know about your taxes, but if you’re reading this, I’m thankful, at least, the grim reaper is AWOL. Death drops by with nonchalant regularity, taking with him parents, friends, siblings and spouses. In fact, I can include one or more of each in my list of losses. But these are different days, first in lifetimes days when illness and death seem only a sneeze or cough away. And the perfectly fit the MO of a brutal, worldwide pandemic we have come to know as COVID-19.

Worries about, and results of, this coronavirus epidemic have touched nearly everyone around the globe. With each generation, the world becomes smaller, enabling shared experience as well as shared disease from countries oceans away. Since the virus arrived at our shores, we’ve watched death rates climb with frightening velocity each day. Sure, we lived through SARS, Swine Flu, and Ebola but nothing has struck fear in our collective hearts since the flu of 1917. Some infected become merely carriers; some present with mild symptoms. The unlucky others feel the savagery of the disease — and many, too many, die of it.

And that’s where death’s natural partner, grief comes in. Grief is the way we process trauma, death, and losses of all sizes and flavors. It can devastate us enough in normal times, but in the era of COVID-19, grief can be unnaturally derailed. Where do we put grief, when loved ones die alone? How do we express it, when the people death leaves behind are dumped into socially distanced shock and loss?

Mourning rituals are critical to healthy grief and healing yet, uniquely absent in a pandemic. Instead, overloaded funeral homes greet no grieving families. Masses, wakes and shivas are non-existent. In their place, awkward digital groupings are becoming common as family gathers on Zoom to mourn. The basic comfort of connective touch is absent, making grief as grim and devastating as can be.

Losing my husband in a blink of an eye one night was obviously an unparalleled shock. Yet, many have endured similar experiences; mine was not an anomaly. But, to lose a loved one without warning, in a lonely COVID-19 cocoon of masks and humming ventilators, is incomprehensible.  My heart breaks for every single one whose grief is quarantined, without the ability to offer last words or touch. Long ago, when my 19 year old brother died of leukemia, half the town turned out to grieve with our family. My parents deaths, 12 years apart, saw their friends gather to grieve, and when friends died, I shared my grief along with others they loved. These are not those times; this is fear and grief on steroids.

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