The holiday season exists so we have a reason to celebrate being alive. I have adhered to this philosophy for as longer than I’ve known what philosophizing meant. No matter how dark things get as the season draws near — because for some reason, Daylight Saving still exists in the already grey realm of central New York — I will always preach joy.
That doesn’t mean I’m always joyful on the inside. But I try.
The more I muse on the idea of grief, the more I realize it’s a deeply personal experience that is somehow also wholly universal. If you clicked on this story after reading the headline or subtitle, it’s because you recognize the pain that is, for so many of us, always mixed in with the glitter and glow of Christmas time. You “get it.” You’ve “been there.”
Yet you’ve never been where I’ve been. Not exactly. There is a reason grief support groups exist. We all exist with a very human and therefore normal need to outwardly express our thoughts and emotions. Yet we so often do so with the empty, isolating understanding that even those who understand how we’re feeling will never understand what we’re specifically going through.
Two people can experience the same overarching tragedy and come out of it on opposite sides of transformation. That’s because two people who have lost loved ones only know the ones they themselves lost, the relationship they had (or didn’t) with that person, and hopefully gather different insights in the aftermath of that loss. What that person being alive meant to them. What that person not being here anymore says to their aching hearts.
As December approached this year, I assumed I would, by default, have The Best December Ever. I’m free of a job that quite literally enslaved me. I’m in a new place (literally) with a person who knows and values my soul. There has been so much positive change in my life this year that a voice dancing around in the back of my skull keeps whispering: “Honey, be grateful. You have everything you could ever want.”
I am. And I do. But just because this December was supposed to be my season of gratitude doesn’t mean I’ve stopped carrying around the weight of dark Decembers past.
I have always hated December. No matter how much I love the season.
December was the month our parents spoke the word cancer out loud in our household for the first time. The month a Facebook post rudely alerted me to the sudden and brutal passing of someone I needed to stick around — the night before one of the worst days of my life.
December was the start of a romance I had to end five months later to save myself. It was the month during seven straight years of college and grad school that my anxiety always sickened me. And now it’s the month I’ll always remember as the one where I painfully said goodbye to a dream.
I lost one of my best friends this year for reasons I will never fully understand. I made a lot of mistakes, and probably hurt a lot of people in the process. I left behind a lot I never thought I’d escape.
Every day this month, I’ve reminded myself that Decembers have been worse before, and there will be worse ones than those. Life, by definition, is ups and downs. Trials and triumphs. Tears, followed by laughter, followed by shock, and the cycle will always repeat itself. This is how it goes.
But the more weight we carry, the stronger we become. The universe piles it on because if it didn’t, we’d lose the stamina we built up. We’ll need it. We’ll never know when.
When things are good, we worry when they’ll get bad again. When they’re bad, we wonder if they’ll ever get good. That’s why, during the highs as well as the lows, we have to keep looking ahead. Even when we remember the things that still hurt, we have to keep going.
At the end of it all, you will never regret that you kept going.
I suppose December isn’t all bad. It’s the month I spoke to the love of my life for the first time — on Taylor Swift’s birthday (what better way to begin a joint Swiftie love story?). It’s the month I finally graduated college after years of struggling. It’s the month that holds every promise of leaving the last 12 months behind for something new. Something brighter.
In my grief I have found the best coping mechanism at every stage is to draw tight circles around even the most microscopic of joyful things. My husky losing her entire sense of self during the first snowfall of the season. Shopping for the perfect gifts to give everyone I know. The belief that there is no such thing as too much hot chocolate. The hope that next December, I’ll be better equipped to carry the weight on my shoulders. That there will be an unfathomable number of reasons to love whatever season of life I’m in 350 days from this very moment.
Always look forward, even in the dark. It is how you will get through.