When Holidays Just Don’t Feel The Same

For everyone who’s feeling the weight of loss or the tides of change a little bit extra during this holiday season:

I see you. I share your pain. I am here. You are not alone.

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This time of year pays no mercy to those of us carrying the heaviness of grief. The holidays never fail to approach more rapidly than anyone could ever expect, and the onset of the season is always an intense and all-consuming one. While the fall and winter seasons and the holidays that accompany them have the capacity to breed inexplicable joy, gratitude, love, and laughter, for many people, even a passing thought of the holidays is enough to induce great anxieties, sadness, and feelings of emptiness. The holiday season has a way of reminding us all of the past, and despite how very different each of our experiences have been and continue to be, the nostalgia and sentimentality we all experience towards our childhoods and our pasts seems to be a universal phenomenon. That alone should serve as a reminder that, in spite of how alone we all may feel on our unique paths and in the potential pain or longing that we feel, we are never in isolation. Easy as it is to forget that, it is absolutely essential to acknowledge the commonalities in shared human experiences and emotion, for empathy and compassion for one another is more powerful than any feeling of loneliness could ever prove. Still, the difficulties and adversities that the holiday season bring to many of us cannot be neglected, nor should they be deemed unimportant or any less real than the moments of joy and hope we often feel during these times. In particularly painful or onerous times (even more so that usual), we must all try our very best to give whatever we feel the time of day and the allowance to simply exist. Moreover, the sentiments that arise and the ways in which we begin to think about ourselves, our lives past, present, and future, no matter how deep or weighted, deserve to be dealt with as they come. Over the past few years, I have found this to be both the most difficult and rewarding aspect of the holiday season. On one end, the pain of the process forces you into acknowledging and sorting through your internal turmoil as it comes, something that is never comfortable or easy for any human being. Having to sit with and find comfort in the discomfort undergirding all of what you are feeling or experiencing is often the most arduous, complex part of healing, for it asks us to push back against the negative emotions we so frequently try to avoid. Not only that, but it asks us to do so in some of the more treacherous times in our lives, as well. On the other end, however, validating your own thoughts, feelings, reactions, and behaviors in this fashion may not only offer the most genuine and helpful kind of solace in these times, but it will heal your heart and soul more than any form of ignorance or dissonance ever could. Learning how to acknowledge certain sentiments is one thing, and learning how best to cope with it all is another. Just a little reminder to give yourself grace in times of need— this life is a lot harder than many of us warranted, and is often unfair. Blaming ourselves for the trials, adversities, losses, or shortcomings we observe only begets shame, and shame breeds guilt and an incompleteness of heart that no one deserves. The last thing anyone needs is shame for being human. So offer yourself & everyone you love more than that. 

It’s around this time every year that I begin to think about my mom, even more so than usual. And well, if there’s anyone that understands the feeling of harrowing, painful nostalgia…you’re talking to her. I often joke that my life is a constant struggle in trying to decipher whether the nostalgia I feel is the warm, joyful kind, or the deeply painful and existential kind. I’m never quite sure which one I feel more often, but I do know that nostalgia is something that I feel every single day and often have to fight through, for it often only reminds me of the inevitable passage of time and the possibility that there are some moments in this life that I will be insufficient in cherishing until they become memories. I’ve dealt with a deep, deep internal feeling of nostalgia for as long as I can remember, and it seems to only become more and more intense as I grow older and have more memories to reflect on, people to cherish as they come and go, and experiences that simultaneously bring me happiness, sorrow, pain, and pleasure. It is all very much a journey, and part of the wonder of nostalgia is the mystery it always embodies. Over the years, I have learned how to navigate through feeling both happy and sad at the same time, for that is not only a possibility, but it is common for me and so many others in this life. I’ve put to rest my bad habit of discounting my own ability to feel such strong, contradicting emotions at the same time, and I have since found beauty and peace in being capable of feeling things so deeply. I am 100% an empath and a feeler, something I tried for SO LONG to change about myself by pretending like I couldn’t feel the way that I knew I did deep down, building up walls to protect myself, or even dissociating from my own mind and the pain I felt in a particular moment in order to escape and appear stone-cold. I used to be completely unreachable, and I was wrongly proud of that. I thrived on presenting myself as emotionless and unmoving, when in reality, the ability to be moved is such a wonderful gift. Now, I try my hardest to remind myself of this everyday, even when I feel weak. Because in the moments where we feel our weakest, we often find the greatest strength, heart, and will within us. So everyday, and especially this time of year, I urge everyone to grant yourself the grace to feel what you need to feel when you need to feel it, the hope that enables you to continue finding the light and love in life and in one another, and the knowledge that every obstacle, no matter how insurmountable it may seem, can be overcome. May the lessons of impermanence teach you this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.

If this year or any recent year, you have experienced a loss or change that feels relentless and indomitable, know this: I completely understand the place you’re in right now, and although I would never claim to fully understand exactly how you’re feeling, I do know what it feels like to consistently grieve the loss of what you knew to be your life. Learning how to maintain an awareness and appreciation of the past, the people, and the things that used to define us while synchronously navigating through new phases and modes of life is perhaps one of the greatest strifes of the human condition. In addition to the complexities that come with loss in general, the onset of the holiday season never fails to remind us of what “used to be,” who (if anyone) is missing, how traditions have changed, and how time has passed, bringing good or bad fortune. The weight of the season constantly highlights, more than any other time, how the missing or grieved puzzle piece has impacted the family in its entirety, the execution of traditions, and everything else, especially when is comes to the holidays themselves. It’s always around this time of year that I suddenly become overwhelmed with longing for my mom and all that she always offered to our family and the way we went about celebrations, and it’s most clear in these times that there is and always will be a significant hole in family gatherings, the traditions we continue to uphold, and in all of our hearts. Everything about the holidays reminds me of her— from the smells, to all of the lights, to the weekly festivities, to the plethora of decorations that she always loved putting up so much, to the holiday music and movies. Whether I am wrapping gifts and trying desperately to remember how she made those beautiful, extravagant ribbons for them all, or am watching some of our family favorite Christmas movies, or am sifting through old photos at Disneyland and Christmas Tree Lane, I feel my mom with me in every step. For me, there is no escaping the spirit of my mom in my home and in the spirit of the season, for she was and continues to be the heart of it all. And although that is heavy and often painful from moment to moment, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The lasting impact and presence that she continues to have in all that I do and how such important times in our lives are shaped reassures me that she is never forever lost, just seeing it all differently now. What a gift that is. Painful as it is to acknowledge the change (even undesired) that has inevitably come with time and the things and people we have lost, this same acknowledgement can and will also bring peace. Memories of the past are gifts in and of themselves, and the capacity to sustain an ongoing love and recognition for those we have lost is an even greater one. I have found that giving myself permission to miss my mom every single day, especially on the most special ones, is absolutely okay, for it helps me get through the times where I look around and all I can see is the space that she used to fill or the ways her smile and laughter lit up every room she entered. Further, I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s okay to wish that things were different and to mourn what my life used to look like and how it used to be. At the same time, I also have to be strong enough to propel myself forward and look towards new, different things, for I owe that to myself and to my mom for all of the years she was cut short. Besides, new and different might be just that— new and different. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be just as beautiful. There may have been other, perhaps even more special times. But this one is ours, and that is to be cherished.

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The holiday season really is the hardest time of year for a reason, so don’t blame yourself for feeling every bit of sadness, grief, loss, or loneliness extra right now. It’s okay to feel heavy and to sit with it all, so long as you recognize that a lot of the burdens you feel during and throughout this time are not yours to carry. On one end, it’s more than okay to feel however you need to in order to make it through each day. But it’s simultaneously not your job to ensure that the world keeps spinning . That is a responsibility of its own, and its okay to let go. You will undoubtedly find strength in those who surround and love you as time passes and you all find new and beautiful ways to celebrate what used to be while also cherishing what’s new. But you also have strength standing on your own. Don’t discount that. Still, I know how hard it is to mourn things and people who are lost, and there truly are no words to console that kind of pain. Just know that I understand it all so well, and that no matter how isolated and alone you may feel, you never are. I get it. It’s a strange feeling, and nothing makes you more aware of the passage of time than landmark life events and seeing the people you love experience them right there with you, even if it’s just through the onset of the holidays year after year. This season also often pushes us to (whether consciously or subconsciously) consider the fact that change is constantly occurring in a variety of ways, and that the only constant this life has to offer is change itself. But change doesn’t have to be painful, nor does it have to be a bad thing. New waves of life can be just as beautiful, as unfamiliar as they are. The knowledge that the love shared amongst you and everyone who surrounds you will never change is the foundation you can always rely on. Time changes a lot of things, but never the important things. Trust that. The holidays WILL feel like the holidays again.

On the days where you’re feeling like you can’t take another step, can’t breathe fully, or cannot find the strength to move forward, this is your reminder: you have survived every difficult day and every loss in your life thus far. You have surpassed every hardship you once believed to be hindering or faulting you. You have healed every heartbreak, even when you were unaware of your own healing and ability to become whole again, even when your faith was most hard to find. Nothing that has ever tried to break you has succeeded, and none of the trials you have faced were ever the end of you. You have ALWAYS moved forward, picking yourself up and courageously piecing yourself back together as you go. You have never failed to turn your losses and grievances into lessons, and you have saved yourself time and time again. In times where you feel as if you cannot continue or feel your way through anymore, remind yourself of all the times you already have. Remember the wounds you thought would never mend, the voids you believed to be permanent, and look how you have endured. Life is always going to be a balancing act, a journey that asks more of you than you think you can give. But life will never defeat you. You have always fought your way out of the darkness. Have no doubt that you always will. Just take one step, and do the next right thing.