Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Grieving at the Holidays

Here is one of the ways grief works in our minds… I fall asleep thinking about my new cat, and how quickly she slipped into her own night time pattern. And how different her pattern is from any of the other cats I’ve had. Had. Because they’re dead now. Bella died in June. Bella hasn’t even been dead for a year. Bella’s only been six months. And I miss her. As cute as Mara is, she is an addition, not a replacement. And I want to have them both. Then I want all five of the deceased and alive cats all in one space. In one time. Right now.
And then I remember that time is a cycle of wheels and gears interlocking and pulling away. Some return to meet over and over and some gears only touch once before travelling onward. Our lives are these wheels within gears, within circles of family and friends. We need time and distance to distort the powerful emotion of feeling all that love at once or we would explode from the wonder of it. But sometimes, in the wake of the awe, we forget that these cycles and shifting circles are what our lives are made up of. And grief is part of that cycle.
I remember Bella’s night time pattern. Every night, before sleep, a kiss on the nose. If I forgot she would cry at me, kneading her feet angrily or worriedly on the bed. It was never the same emotion. And I remembered them, every one of those separate occasions as if they were a flip book of images in my mind until they became the same still. A thousand emotional moments becoming one feeling, one memory, and bringing her back to life. I could hear her tinny, obnoxious cry. And I could feel her coat under my hand. I could feel her push her face against my lips. I started to cry with a kind of grief I haven’t let myself feel for months.
The house is decorated for the holidays. We give our cats a stocking of toys and catnip in the morning. It was hard enough when Luna died. This year, Bella won’t be there either. I know our holiday morning will be bittersweet, making new memories while being haunted by old ones. It’s why learning to be in the moment is important. This year, more than any other, I have a long list of friends who are dealing with the loss of a parent or pet, most of them within the last few weeks. It’s the cycle of life. And it’s heartbreaking.
It’s hard to lose someone at the holiday season. And it’s hard to be missing them when we are focused on family and loved ones. The weight of our grief directly correlates to the weight of the love we held for the lost. And when we are surrounded by family, by joyous, loving emotions like the holidays evoke, some of that grief will seep through. The most important piece of advice I can give you is to be gentle with yourself. The holidays are about compassion and you have to start with yourself. There’s no timetable for grief. What takes some people months, takes others years. Even then, it never truly goes away. The loss is always with us. So go easy on your grief and let it flow through you.
The other day with friends, I realized that I would never say to Bella again, “Nobody wants your anus,” as she was prone to presenting it to people in greeting. I cried for a minute, out of nowhere to my friends. They asked what was wrong and I told them and immediately laughed through my tears, because it was such a strange thing to miss. I said that it was stupid and my friends said, No. It wasn’t. And they were right. The tears gave way to smiles and funny stories and the day went on. I didn’t ruin it with my grief.
So who cares if you’re at a holiday party and you think about your dad and you cry. Everyone loses people they love. Everyone understands. And if they don’t, maybe we need to make them. I shed a tear for my Grandpa every Christmas morning when I eat my orange, because he’s not here.
The last Christmas together, 2009.
It’s when we hold our grief in that it eats at us and it hurts. That’s when keeping it behind walls until it bursts out ruins our days and moods. At the holidays, it’s impossible not to think about our fresh losses. We’re afraid of our grief. We’re afraid to bring it up because of the tears that threaten to follow. But what doesn’t work through us lives within us. So those who are grieving need to be able to be sad so that we can push through the crust of grief to the happy memories underneath it. The swifter you allow the flood, the sooner it ebbs.
If you aren’t the one grieving? Give your friends a break. Invite them to your festivities even if they’re dealing with a loss. Remind them they still have you. Be understanding if they choose not to come. Be understanding if they show up and are not the life of the party. Holidays are not about how things look. They’re about brotherhood and sisterhood and compassion.
I spend a lot of my time hanging natural ribbons on trees in memory of those no longer with me. So I both make and collect ornaments that do the same thing. I have an angel cat for both Luna and Bella. A hummingbird for my grandparents and an owl for my grandma. You could also get some heavy card stock and cut out suns and snowflakes. Write the names of your Recent and Beloved Dead on them and hang them on your tree.
Drink a toast to those you miss when you are all gathered together. Have everyone raise a glass and speak their name. Share funny or heartwarming stories about them. Set a favored cocktail out on a clear space as an altar and offering for them. Bake the cookies they loved or used to make themselves and share them.
Put out a bunch of tea lights and candles, unlit. Throughout the day, as you remember a happy memory, light another candle. Literally allow the love and memories you had to bring light into your holiday. The darkness of winter seems to last forever, but this is when the light begins to return. I use the holiday as a reminder that there is joy after the sadness. Grief may pull at our hearts but love will win out in the end.

Blessings to you and yours this holiday season. 

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