“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” – Cicero

24 Nov

Why is it that the holidays are filled with grief for so many people?

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The year that we lost my grandmother was incredibly hard. It was close to Christmas, and, rather than our family coming together for the holiday, we came together to say goodbye to a woman who helped mold and shape us into the people we’d become. To top it off, I was in college, young, and self absorbed (it wouldn’t be long before I began living on my own,) and my world was being turned upside down.  It’s taken nearly a decade, but we’ve recovered by honoring some old family traditions, and starting new ones in an effort to move on. We share memories and visit her grave site. We keep her memory, and try to let go of the pain.

I find myself dealing with such similar pain again this year, but with more loss than I could have imagined in such a short period of time.

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A couple of months ago, when I lost my dad, I thought back to how hard it had been to lose Nana so close to the holidays, and I think about how different this experience has been for me than that one was. As close as I was with my grandmother, losing a parent has been a whole different kind of grief. We also had time to prepare, as a family, for my Nana’s passing, and she had time to prepare for the funeral arrangements, and to express her wishes to her children. While Dad was sick, all of us were taken by surprise when he died. He had no will, and even though he had two filing cabinets filled with papers, I’ve yet to find a current bank statement or phone bill to take care of his accounts. I’m also the only child, so I’m just thankful that I have my mom and husband to help ease me through the process.

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A couple of weeks ago, we lost my Uncle David (my dad’s brother.) He lived 30 years cancer-free after being treated for lymphoma in 1983, but suddenly became ill several months ago. What started as severe anemia lead the doctors to find an internal loss of blood, which lead them to find the tumors in his abdomen. They began treatment just days after Dad passed, and decided that we’d wait until Christmas to get together for the holidays, since his immune system would be so suppressed during chemo. After a short time in treatment, though, our family knew it probably wouldn’t be long before he joined Dad in heaven. My aunt and cousins stayed by his side for his remaining time here on Earth, which was spent mostly at the hospital. We attended his memorial today, which was filled with family, friends, fellow Army service members, and fellow firemen, including the Honor Guard, who performed their ceremony to honor him. We talked about how appropriate it was for him, the big brother, to follow closely behind the little brother on their way home.

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Yesterday, my mom called me to tell me that her dog, our family dog, Jewel, had become disoriented and could hardly walk. When I was in high school, Mom thought I should have a dog, but after I spent the first few days away at a school tournament, she really became Mom’s. She had been severely abused and neglected, and was so grateful to have a loving home. She returned the favor and then some by warning us when my Nana had a heart attack, and warning my mom before she nearly went into a diabetic coma. For the past couple of years, there were times when we thought she was close to death, but she would spring back to life the next day, and act like a puppy for days or months before acting her age again. She was 15 years old, had gone blind, and could hardly hear or smell. Then the dementia-like symptoms started. Just within the past few weeks, she began snapping at Mom, and we knew that if she didn’t bounce back this time, we may have to have her put to sleep. We honestly believe that she waited until Mom was well enough, after her knee replacement, to walk on her own before “telling” us it was her time to go. The employees at the vet’s office were so kind and respectful, and the process was very fast. Even though my mom and I know it was the right thing to do, it’s heartbreaking to lose an animal that was so much more than a pet to us.

Needless to say, this has been a very hard time for our family. I don’t know what to do with this grief. It’s hard to speak with friends, because I have such little good news to give them. The tears often come unexpectedly, and I feel like my brain is only capable of meeting the minimum requirements right now. I barely even thought about Thanksgiving until a couple of days ago, and again today when my aunt and cousins invited us to share the dinner they decided to go ahead with this Friday. So, life goes on, and we deal with all this loss in the best way we can.

We do our jobs, and get back to our routines.

We have Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and look for a new dog to rescue.

We’ll make new traditions, and maybe, in a decade or so, we’ll feel close to normal again.

Gentle hugs,

Chels

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