The Battle of Joy + Grief


It’s definitely a whole new… world over here. And a whole new “thing” experiencing Christmas in a place that doesn’t necessarily celebrate Christmas. Of course, Indonesia is predominately a Muslim country so I don’t think Santa Clause it too big around here. Large decorated Christmas trees can be found in all the malls however, but otherwise I am being very intentional to bring a little bit of Christmas cheer to my hotel/dorm room. Some Christmas lights have been hung around my room and every evening I have some Christmas Spotify playlist playing a variety of sweet holidays tunes.

Even though I am far away from home and far away from anything reminding me of Christmas (it’s still thirty degrees here), my heart has been aching for a few things this month. 

First of all, my soul aches to just be home. There’s nothing quite like celebrating the holidays in the house you grew up in, hoping for that white Christmas snow fall, and celebrating the season with friends, family, and loved ones. My heart is missing the little things: sugar cookie baking and icing with my family (a tradition that my grandma started and even though she’s currently in an assisted living home, we still pull out the santa, wreath, star, and holly cookie cutters), hot beverages all day (literally all day), slow afternoons and games in front of the Christmas tree, decorating the house, walks in Roberts Creek, dad putting on a fire, bundling up on some family hikes, and just being together for all the days. But most of all, I miss my family. I miss my humans. I miss mom and dad, Stuart and Connor. I miss the days that all five of us would and could be together at home. Stuart recently said that we had so much emphasis about being together especially over the holidays, that when the month of December rolls around we are already feeling the sting of missing a member of our family. 

Unfortunately, this sting is ever prevalent in the homes and lives of so many others. And if you’re reading this and experiencing a similar pain, let me just tell you that my heart aches for you. It aches so, so deeply. I know that feeling of dread once December 1st hits, that smile you feel you need to plant on your face for the next month as to not be the downer, and the endless “things” that need to be done this time of year that empty your tank faster than anything else. And the sadness knowing that nothing will be able to take away the pain you're feeling.  

But even though we’re hurting, I encourage you to look around. It may not feel like it, but there is still magic around us. Don’t search for this magic in the big things, the things that you THINK you should be looking towards. But shift your focus onto those seemingly insignificant details; the way a family member laughs, the feeling you have being surrounded by friends, the taste of a rum and eggnog (I am seriously so jealous of all of you drinking this back home!!), children’s excitement around Santa Clause coming, the smell of a Christmas tree, getting outside and breathing crisp air, Christmas mass and the hope that surrounds everyone, the feeling of a thick warm sweater and holiday slippers, relative’s extra tight squeezes (even the relatives that aren't your favourite!), and the Christmas lights that are lighting up the whole city. These things don't need to mask any grief or pain your feeling. And these things certainly don't need to make you feel whole again. But let's see what they can do for you. I encourage you to look around – right now. See what magic is in the air or what’s around you. It’s so easy to get caught up in buying the best Christmas present, wearing the best outfit for a holiday party, stressing about not putting on weight over the holidays, and getting burnt out running from one party to the next, foregoing the self care you really need this time of year. When actually... none of that matters. Isn't that insane? How much time we actually waste stressing over things that don't matter one bit. When really, all we should be focused on is loving the people that are around us (and physically near or far)

Side note to my introverted or grieving friends: it’s okay to say no to a handful of gatherings and events if it’ll make you a happier, healthier human. It's okay to not be okay. You just need to decide how many festivities you can personally handle this season and how much time you NEED to spend recharging your batteries. There is no right answer. And often each holiday season looks a little bit different – depending on how your heart is doing at that particular moment in time. There’s certainly no shame in needing a little down time during the endless hype of Christmas and New Year parties with friends, family, and staff, particularly when you’re overcoming loss. And by overcoming I mean dealing with. Or not dealing with. You get what I'm saying.  

We can understand loss, sure – our brains can compute and comprehend that certain people are gone and they won't be coming back. But part of us still expects them to be there. And when they’re not, that familiar sting of grief comes to the surface. And around this time of year when things are suppose to be perfect, the sting comes extra hard. Or more frequent. 

As with all holidays and special occasions we want to join the celebration. We so badly want to feel the joy that seems to be all around us, filling up everyone except for you. To feel what we used to feel some odd years ago when that loved one was still around. The memories of happier Christmases taunt us. Do we change up tradition? Then it won’t feel or be the same. Is that a good thing? Do we want to do everything as we used to? But then it’s so obvious they aren’t with us. Cue the never-ending battle with the holidays.

Something that I’ve struggled with is finding the balance between grief and joy, and if I’m feeling one and not the other, to let that be and not feel guilty about it. Trying to teach myself that whatever feelings I’m having on a certain day are okay. And even during the holidays when I feel so guilty about not being overjoyed – being so immensely afraid that I’ll be bringing someone else’s mood down with mine – all those things are okay to feel. Because feeling joy during certain moments doesn't mean that we haven't felt the immense pain of heartbreak and loss. Feeling joy doesn't mean that we aren't grieving anymore. And feeling joy doesn't mean that our past memories are somehow gone. We need to learn to be okay with finding pleasure and joy while we’re forever grieving and at the same time allow ourselves to have spiraling moments of deep, dark pain and sorrow regardless of how long your grief journey has been. Whether it's on a random Tuesday or on Christmas Eve. It’s all okay. Yet, a tricky balancing act to master. 

My only advice is to really truly ask yourself what you need this season. You might be letting some people down, sure. But I hope that as friends and family they can understand the boundaries that you have set for yourself. And if you choose to just go to one festivity – great! Go with an open mind and heart and let whatever small joys come across your path, come. Give yourself permission to feel a little bit of that joy. Look for the magic… I promise you that it’s there – even if the magic reminds you of a lost loved one and brings a few tears. These holidays can still be enjoyed and not just tolerated. Just be open with yourself and don’t put too much pressure on the parties, the feelings, and creating “the perfect” anything. There is so much pressure for the holidays to be the best time of year and for a lot of us, that just may never be the case. I encourage you friends: listen to your heart this holiday. Do what’s right for you. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe. The magic is found within the imperfections and the little Christmas miracles that can be found in every room.

“Believing that the real work of the human heart and mind is learning to hold complicated feelings simultaneously. To feel breathless gratitude for our life and loved ones, while also feeling the deep bruise of grief for those who are no longer here. To pause and take in the beauty of warm-white holiday lights, while also holding the ache of loss for whoever and whatever might be missing from our lives.”

And one more thing: do me a HUGE favour would you?

Go give some massive love to those that are around you or those that you'll be seeing tonight. There's nothing quite like having all your friends or family under one roof celebrating Christmas. And whether or not you are grieving - I know the people that ARE around you are special.

So make them feel loved. Give them a huge hug. A big kiss. Tell them you love them.

Hold them oh, so tight. 

You won't regret it - because nobody knows what the future holds. Just be in the now. And the 'now' is Christmas Eve.