Embracing Both Grief and Joy This Holiday Season

The other day I was telling my husband that I actually feel excited about the holidays this year. I also told him that I feel incredibly guilty for feeling excited.

I mean, this will be my first holiday season without my mom. Shouldn’t I be consumed with grief and dreading it? How can I possibly feel excited?

The reality is I’ve already spent several holidays without my mom. There were years when I lived far away and couldn’t travel home for the holidays. And then there were years when I spent the holidays with my mom, but it was as if she wasn’t there.

Of course, I won’t be spending the holidays with my mom this year for a different reason, a much more permanent one, but still it kind of feels like I’ve been down this road already.

Death and grief affects everyone differently, but for me the following two things are true.

One, I’m not dreading the holidays this year because my mom’s illness and her death has taught me to be so damn grateful for the people who are still here. I’m so damn grateful to be able to spend the holidays with my family and my husband’s family, especially without having to get on a plane to do so.

And two, I miss my mom so much more in the ordinary moments and on the ordinary days. My grief can run so much deeper on a random Tuesday afternoon than on any holiday or special occasion.

So, I have decided that I’m going to go with my natural urge to feel joy and excitement this year. It has been years since I actually looked forward to the holidays and felt anything even remotely resembling excitement for them. I refuse to force myself to feel sad and miserable out of some obligation to my grief.

Obviously, I am so sad that my mom is gone and I still miss her every single day. I know I will look for her seated at the table for Thanksgiving dinner and smiling around the tree and presents on Christmas Day. I know this year’s memories will be bittersweet because nothing will ever be as good without her here. I know I will feel the weight of her absence probably even more than I ever appreciated her presence.

But I know amongst all these things that I will also feel joy.

Because we can do both.

At the exact same time.

And this year, I plan to embrace it all.

Christmas 2019, my mom’s last Christmas.

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