On Grief and the Holidays

There are two different breeds of grief. The first is acute grief from when you lose someone suddenly in the the life you both knew and mourning the end of a shared journey, and the second is grief that comes with every subsequent day of change, growth and evolution and the slow and unsympathetic realization that no matter how much you fail or succeed, they will never be around for it; not even after years without them when you are most desperate to hear their voices to share bad or good news, and not even after you feel you have paid your dues, given due diligence, or done your time without them.

For me, this second kind of chronic grief shows up right around this time of year. The holidays are for better or worse a time of heightened emotions for mostly everyone. Expectations run rampant: about who we will see, how it will go, where we will eat and what we will be doing — sometimes it’s a gift we’ve been coveting, other times it’s a set of words we want to hear, a face we want to see — and because of these expectations, disappointment in one way or another is likely, if not inevitable. I haven’t dealt with this well. I’ve tried to defiantly continue old traditions, and when that didn’t work I tried to create new traditions only to have them become fickle and hard to reinforce. Now I just try not to get my hopes up at all, even if deep down I wish it would go even just a little better than I anticipate.

One thing I’ve learnt is that people don’t stick around, for one reason or another. People drift apart, move cities, countries, continents away, break up with one another, or die. I experienced all these phenomena in my first 18 years, and I can’t say that in the 10 years since I’ve had one Christmas that remotely looked like another from the same 10 years. I thrive on schedules and routines. I rely on them to stay healthy and I count on them to stay comfortable. Beyond that I cherish traditions for the memories and the nostalgic value. There’s something beautiful about sharing those moments with the the same people, the same ornaments, the same songs, the same foods and you are a year ahead from the last but still it’s as if somehow, everything is completely different yet still exactly as it has always been.

I think it’s because once you no longer have that familiar life together you are barreling into the unknown where nothing will quite resemble anything else and even if a location, individual, smell, taste, or feeling is recognizable, you will still have all that in-between from the past, present and future and there is nothing quite appeasing in the constant chaos of relentless change. Always remember that your holiday seating chart will change; with new additions, transitions from the kids’ section, and losses to the table. Just remember to never forget who filled those chairs, who provided that food and those laughs. Moments are fleeting, but memories last forever.

Maybe my privilege is showing, but I know that happy holidays are possible. I know it can be the best time of year, a time when dreams come true: the uncontainable giddy-ness on Christmas eve, the presents under the tree, the family around it, the perfect New Year’s countdown… I’ve lived it. I’ve been it and I will never stop striving to have it again. That’s why I love the holidays, because even if they are not perfect right here right now they will be right back around next year for another try at a humble yet extraordinary chance at memories.

Love you all boos, baes, and beaus.

xo

Ashlinn

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