Written By: Charlotte Hawkins
My mom died in 2010. This year will be my thirteenth Christmas without her. You could call me an experienced griever - I have done all the therapy and read all the books and processed all the trauma and I honestly feel fine and healed and good about all the death I experienced as a young adult. I pride myself on helping others when they are flooded with grief and misery - I am now above the emotional maelstrom with all my hard-won experience.
And yet – last week I was making my Christmas to-do list, thinking about which day should be baking day. Do it too early, the cookies are stale by Christmas; push it too late and let’s be honest, it won’t happen at all. And as the ferris wheel of my brain was rotating through those options, I thought, Can I make Grandma’s sugar cookie recipe ahead of time and freeze it? I’ve never done that before - will that dough hold up? IDK, it’s sort of soft - I should text Mom and ask her.
I should text Mom and ask her.
Where the hell did that come from? I know I can’t text her.
Well Charlotte, it certainly didn’t come from your brain - the rational part that says we have made peace with her death and life goes on and time heals all wounds and this too shall pass and we’re just blessed to be here and whatever the hell else you’ve been telling yourself for thirteen years so you can wake up every day and function.
So, it must have come from your heart. From the emotional place deep inside you that will always miss her; from the little pocket of sadness that will always be there no matter how much therapy you pay for or how many books you read.
The truth is, living with loss is always hard, and it gets harder during the holidays. No matter how far removed you are from your loss, or how you have bravely marched on with your life – that pocket of sadness is always present. It’s there in big ways, like the empty seat at the holiday table, but it’s there in small ways, too. It’s in the unanswered question about the cookie recipe, or the house that no one adorns with lights anymore, or the Christmas movie that you skip past on TV because you can’t stand to watch it without your person.
Grief is discussed in far more places and spaces in 2022 than it ever was in 2010. When I was new to the grief game, I don’t think memes had been invented yet, and now there are entire meme accounts about grieving. We have certainly come a long way. But one of the things we still need to work on is the idea of the grief timeline. As a culture, we expect grief to progress, neat and tidy, step-by-step, until one day it’s over. I have had multiple friends look at me with tear-filled eyes and say, “How long will this last? When will I be done?”
In those moments, when they are aching with new and awful pain, I pat their back and give them tea and say, “Don’t worry about that now.” But what I want to say, what I save for later is, “Oh baby, you will never be done. This is your new normal now. Grief doesn’t end, it only changes shape.”
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