Cookie exchanges. Christmas lights. Gift-giving. Feasts. Friends. Family.
The holiday season, which most consider beginning around Thanksgiving and lasting the whole of December, brings so many things to be happy about. We spend time with our family and friends, laughing and making memories. For most, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
But sometimes, even the holidays can't spare us the grief of loss. In this year dominated by the coronavirus, many people are experiencing the loss of loved ones. There will be over 308,000 empty seats at Christmas dinner tables this year.
There will be families who cannot be together because of travel restrictions, and many who will not gather for fear of spreading the virus to loved ones. They will miss each other, and there will be many presents opened over Zoom calls.
Or there will be people like me, who had to say good-bye to a beloved family pet 15 days before Christmas. Instead of boxes of treats and plush squeaky toys under the tree, I've bought my family commemorative ornaments to hang on the tree to remember a furry life well lived and well loved.
It felt surreal to search for memorial stones at a time when the ads are nothing but toys and electronics and matching sets of pajamas - and while I still want to have a good Christmas with my family, I also feel the need to honor the place our family dog held in our lives.
While at a Target store in the middle of the holiday hustle and bustle, carts filled with gifts galore, I tried to find sympathy cards for a couple friends also experiencing loss at this time, and I couldn't help tearing up. I couldn't ignore my private moment of grief but tried to hide it in such a public place where people were in a rush to buy those last-minute gifts. I felt like I was on the outside looking in.
But life doesn't stop for the holidays, and trying to cope in the middle of a pandemic year that's already made me feel so much anxiety and then losing my dog too has made getting in the holiday spirit difficult.
I couldn't get through it without the support of my friends who have reached out and held me tight. It can't fix my loss, it can't bring my dog back so I can hug her one more time, but it can make me feel a little less alone at a time where my grief feels out of place.
My only advice this time of year is that if you have a friend or family member, even if they aren't someone you talk to regularly, who is coping with a loss or even the anniversary of a loss, reach out to them. Tell them you're there; tell them you love them. This year has brought with it so much hardship already. Hold each other just a little bit tighter, and give your dog or cat an extra treat for me today.