From Literally, Darling: I’m Allowed to Grieve My Father During Your Holiday Cheer

The following was originally published on literallydarling.com and can be found here

“Let’s go somewhere and scream.”

I was only 13, but I understood exactly why my older sister suggested it. It was our first Christmas after our dad had died. My three older sisters and I were at our grandparent’s, surrounded by our mom’s side of the family, happiness crowding in on our grief, suffocating us. Me.

But why? Why was it so intense? So emotional?

The buildup of the holiday season is also a buildup of emotions. We’re surrounded by commercials of happy families gathering around a dinner table, of old friends exchanging gifts. But when someone is missing in your own life, these barrages of joy and togetherness don’t exactly elicit content. It’s a bit like a punch in the gut.

Because you’re supposed to be happy, right? You’re supposed to feel full and blessed and like the world is glowing. And sometimes, it does feel that way. Sometimes, life during the holidays is great and everything is going well, but then you remember your mom’s not there. Or your dad, sister, best friend, spouse, partner. They’re gone, and you’re happy. Should you be happy?

For me, that’s what makes the holidays so hard. The fact that my happiness is in such a stark contrast with what’s missing—my dad. He should be there, especially now, especially as another year passes and I’m about to graduate college and my sister is moving abroad soon and I still think boys suck. He should be there, holding my hand and making me laugh with his dad jokes, his beard tickling my skin as we hugged, the world fading away from us.

But instead, every Christmas, I find myself surrounded by everything but him. My mom, my sisters, nephews running around, dog barking (more like yelping really), and even though I’m home, I’m homesick. I crave things the way they used to be, I crave feeling whole, and normal.

But I can’t change it. As much as I let my imagination run away with dreams of my dad being alive again, I know that will never happen. This is my life, and he’s gone. And while I may not have him there, I do have my beautiful family, and they get me through it.

I know I may sound selfish, or spoiled or bratty, that I’m complaining about the season of joy and love, but it’s also the season of heightened emotions, and stress about making it perfect. And I think it’s OK to not be 100% thrilled during the holidays. I think it’s OK to retreat from that family game of charades to go sit alone in your room for a bit, to just be still and remember. Because if it isn’t OK, then it isn’t really the season of joy and love is it?

Celebrating love during the holidays means understanding that maybe your daughter needs time to remember her best friend, or sister or father. It means letting your mom sleep in because maybe she’s not actually sleeping in, maybe she’s looking through old photos of her father. It means knowing that Christmas, or whatever you celebrate, while beautiful, is also the most vivid reminder that someone is gone.

Because when you don’t buy them a present, or send them a card, you’re reminded. When they’re not at the table, laughing along with grandma’s back-in-the-day chatter. When they’re just…gone. You feel that, and it’s so hard to put that feeling into words. I clench, hold all my muscles in together to fill the ache and emptiness of the grief. Maybe you scream into your pillow, maybe you journal, maybe you run. Whatever you do, don’t feel bad about doing it during the holidays. You can’t fully enjoy the season and be happy about it if you’re not dealing with your grief, with your loss.

So, go scream into the abyss. Just stand there, yell, cry and be still. But then, get in the car, go back to your beautiful family, and be there, even though they can’t.

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