Last night I put up my Christmas tree and cried.
It happens every year.
Well, at least every year since my mom passed away, that is (making this the 22nd consecutive year of hanging bulbs and wiping tears).
And since my dad’s passing seven years ago, the tears have kinda doubled.
Such is to be expected, I guess.
Many of those 22 years, I felt such immense shame for feeling sadness.
“There are people who would give anything to have what you have, Heather.”
“You have food in the fridge and a roof over your head. You are blessed in so many ways. Stop being sad.”
“Focus on what (and who) you have here on earth, Heather; not on those who you don’t.”
Those were just a few of the thoughts that would swirl. Ones that would guilt me into wiping away the tears, pushing away the sadness –
And pretending that everything was A-OK.
But here’s the thing:
You just can’t.
Sure, you can push back the frown, and the tears.
But grief is that strong of a force, it’s going to show its face, one way or another.
Through nitpicking an argument with my husband. Getting upset at my children over nothing. Closing cabinet doors with a little too much force; raising my voice just a little bit too loud.
I can pretend with every ounce of strength I have that everything is OK but . . .
It’s going to come out. It’s going to show itself.
Whether we want it to or not.
So I have come to learn in these last 22 years that it’s OK to feel my grief.
And to not only feel it, but to acknowledge it, and to show it.
It’s OK to tell my children, as I wipe away tears while hanging beautiful glass bulbs, that I miss my parents a little bit more this time of year.
It’s OK to ask my husband to bring home takeout because the loss of them hit me a little harder that day than others.
It’s OK to decline an invitation out with friends, and instead of making up some sort of excuse, let them know my grieving heart can only handle a cup of tea and a sofa blanket that day.
And you want to know what else I’ve come to learn in these 22 years of grieving?
People understand. They empathize.
And they truly want to know when you’re hurting.
(As for those who would rather you hide your grief, your sadness, your hurt? I’ve come to learn that that has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with their discomfort with grief. Let’s get something straight: You are not a teacher of grief, my friends. You are someone grieving. And not everyone was built to stand guard for a loved one’s grieving heart, and that’s absolutely OK.)
Can I let you in on a little secret?
After Mom’s passing, for many, many years, I thought I hated Christmas. It felt hard to me; just a heavier weight to carry (as if the everyday weight of loss was not already enough).
But I’ve come to realize that I didn’t hate Christmas.
I hated the pressure of trying to hide my grief, for what I felt was for the comfort of others.
Letting those tears fall? Acknowledging them? And allowing people permission to see them?
It’s allowed me to witness an even more magical experience with Christmas. An experience that only those in this “club” will experience.
It’s allowed me to be loved even harder during a time when I need it even more.
Those thoughts all those years ago? The ones that shamed my grief by telling me how blessed I was?
They were right.
I am indeed blessed.
And owning my grief doesn’t change that.
Joy and grief can co-exist.
Yes, even during Christmas.