You probably have a special memory you go back to this time of year, the season of the Grief Super Bowl, the annual apex of grieving. It’s likely a bittersweet replay.
I go back in my mind to a little girl at a dining room table, feet on a trailer vent grate for warmth and crayon in hand to color Santa Claus.
She glances across the burnt orange carpet in the adjoining living room. Her mother is on the couch, working crosswords and smoking a cigarette.
Do they speak? I cannot recall. It is enough for the girl that her mother is present. She is safe and warm and happy and oblivious to what will someday happen in this house.
Her father is in the back room with a project. She hears his footsteps in the hallway, and then he appears in the kitchen.
Will you color a picture, Daddy?
He consents this time and selects an image of a father in a rocking chair, reading to his children on the night before Christmas.
His coloring technique is distinctively different from the girl’s. He uses light, steady, even strokes, which create a sort of pastel effect, whereas the girl’s colors are deep and bright.
Death & Grief
She saves the coloring book, part of a happy memory, but she cannot know that someday the last time she will see her father will be in that house.
Christmas will be forever tainted. His body will be laid in the hallway and covered in a white sheet. Her mother will die just feet from where she colored images of happy Christmases.
I was the girl. When the holidays approach, I think about being at that table. I think about my parents being present. I think about being safe and protected and whole.
Memory & Grief Triggers
Should we push such bittersweet memories aside like a plate of cold mashed potatoes? We may be tempted to, but should we?
I remember early on, I could not have a pleasant memory about my parents without it being followed by the pain of loss. Grief tainted all the happy spaces in my mind.
You might be in that place today. This experience is apparently an unescapable step after loss. Many of us experience grief and memory this way.
At the same time, many of us move beyond it, too. I did not think I would. It took years.
Finally, having worked through the minutiae of memories and feelings, crying a every juncture, I eased into a place where happy memories were not always followed by hollowness.
And then, eventually, the happy memories overtook the sorrowful.
Christmastime triggers a renewed longing for my parents, and I bet you know the feeling. I’ve heard it said that the healing is in the triggers, and it’s true. I use the phrase “finding healing through grief.” To get to a sense of healing, we must feel the feels. We must grieve.
Memories & Connection
Memories also provide a connection to our parents and other loved ones who have died. Finding a sense of connection is critical to healing. I always a celebrate when sense of connection arrives.
We may find connection at Christmas through old traditions or through new ones that help us memorialize the missing person. We may find connection through objects – I love to put my parents’ ornaments on my tree – or through shared values such as sharing with the needy.
Embracing our memories and working through whatever feelings they bring up are tools at our disposal to take us through grief and toward healing.
I believe it is a lifelong journey, but I also see myself coping in ways that honor the life they lived and that we shared.
That is beautiful and meaningful. That helps me move through life.
I hope you find that place, too, in your own, unique way.
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