Grieving in a Holly Jolly Time

The holiday season is often a hard time for many people. Remembering those we have lost, traversing the complexities of family relationships. Even those we cherish can rub us sore during such a busy time of year.

While my house smells like pine and the twinkle lights have been hung, my heart is heavy. November has been a hard month for me for years, but now the dread I feel as Thanksgiving approaches carries a new weight I must lug along as we march towards Christmas.

Six years ago we lost someone dear to me, my brother's first boyfriend. Though they lived three states away we all played a game together online daily and so I had formed a close relationship with AC. He was a good friend and when we lost him at a mere 22 years old I, like my brother, was devastated.

In 2019 my great aunt died. I never called Kathy great because that feels distant and informal to me. She was and always will be my Aunt Kathy. She loved me, protected me. She truly was great.

Losing Aunt Kathy was hard for the entire family. A pain and a panic set in like a toxin injected into our veins as we watched her rapidly deteriorate. This was quite possibly the strongest woman we all knew and in mere months she became unable to feed herself or care for her own hygiene. She could barely eat and spent most of the days sleeping.

My brother and I traveled to South Carolina and helped where we could for a week in early November and we were able to say goodbye while she could still remember us, which I am truly grateful for.

She died on Black Friday, November 29th, 2019 and it solidified in my mind what I had felt for months, that 2019 had been quite possibly the worst year of my entire life. If only I had known how much we would need her strength and wisdom in 2020.

November 29th, 2020 was a cursed day for me, and yet I never once thought about my aunt’s passing. I felt sick, everything I needed to get done had a wrench tossed into the cogs, and my anxiety was at an all-time high.

It is now, as we move into December, that I am really feeling the ache. The weight of my loss. A friend was discussing dishes with me at the cafe and I suddenly went far away to all the family get-togethers where my grandmother would cook supper and when everyone was settling into a nap, Aunt Kathy would do the dishes. Without fail. Without question. Kathy didn’t cook anything but cookies, but she was one mean dish washer.

I know this year we will feel the weight of the hole she left behind. Avoiding the discussion of who will do dishes, dancing around her name, biting back the jokes about who used the most tape because she was notorious for wrapping presents like they were make-shift panic rooms.

This is something we must all go through at some point in life, I’m sure. This will hurt for now, but one day, though our love for them is never wavering, it will ache less and the holiday season will bring less dread and panic.

For those, like me, the many, who grieve during these “holly jolly” times, I urge you to take breaks, find awareness in your body and breath, give acceptance to your emotions and the emotions of others.

But most importantly remember and honor the joy they brought to your life by bringing that joy and honor to others. Be their aunt Kathy when you pass, a goal we should all strive for.

Oh yea, and wear a fucking mask.

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Candice Shea Maxwell

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