It’s the little things that break my heart. It’s hearing “Mary’s Boy Child” by Harry Belafonte at a coffee shop, or seeing a Coca-Cola commercial about a little girl who only wants her dad to be home for Christmas. There’s something about these reminders of my father that make the holiday decorations lose their lustre and dims the lights around the Christmas tree, as if a part of those joyful moments will never fully return. It’s at these moments that I realize how deep the trauma of a sudden death can be.
In December last year, I lost my father to a combination of an aortic abdominal aneurysm and a stroke. Devastation isn’t a big enough word to describe my father’s death. My dad and I were close, so close that we could sit in a room together for hours on end without saying a word, because everything worth saying between us was already understood. When he was dying, there was only enough time to board a plane from Toronto to Halifax so that I could be there for his final moments. The abruptness of it all left me in a numbed state of shock that I don’t think I’ve yet shaken.
In that first month after Dad’s death, I foolishly believed that the hard part was over and that I could begin to move forward. I found comfort in isolation, so when Ontario entered lockdown in those first few weeks of the pandemic, I welcomed it despite how crucial the support of friends and family can be in the midst of grief. Not having to put a brave face on for anyone was an unexpected relief. But it soon became clear that isolating myself from my husband and friends not only put my healing on hold, it was fuelling my grief.
Now, I have little choice. I’m among thousands of Canadians who are unable to visit friends and family over the holiday season due to tightened restrictions on social gatherings, or full lockdowns in the case of B.C. and Ontario. Many of us are missing the physical support of the people we love. Grief begets grief, and the 1,200 kilometres separating me from my mother has formed a gaping hole in our ability to find closure. We can’t be together on the anniversary of my father’s death, and we can’t create new holiday traditions in his absence.
That last part especially hurts. Christmas was always my dad’s season. He spent the days dancing, laughing and singing Christmas carols (badly, might I add) to entertain guests at my parents’ annual Christmas Eve party. Now, any merriment has taken on a desolate quality, and joyful Christmas carols at the pharmacy or grocery store seem played in minor key. It breaks my heart that I’ll never see him tooling about the kitchen wearing that stupid Santa hat that always seemed to magically materialize on his head just in time for the festivities. I think now I understand why some people hate the holidays.
To face one of the most emotionally impacting holidays of the year and not feel any devastation would be concerning. And yet, I feel guilty about telling my family and friends how I’m really feeling around the holidays. I’m afraid they’ll perceive me as needy or wanting attention, or that I’d simply drag them down in a year. In a time where the entire world is in crisis, it sometimes seems selfish to focus on the grief you’re experiencing. But it’s not selfish. In fact, I’ve learned how important it is to embrace these feelings wholeheartedly.
For everyone who has lost someone with the past year and feels isolated from the ones they love, I feel for you.
During this past year, it has become increasingly important to feel everything — the grief from isolation, the pain of not being able to be with friends and family, and even the occasional moments of joy in the simple pleasures, like watching Edward Scissorhands (which I firmly believe is a Christmas movie), or enjoying a cup of hot chocolate with a friend over FaceTime.
Sharing those memories with friends or indulging in new holiday traditions makes it easier to deal with the bad days. While we wait for the pandemic to come to an end, feeling the full scope of grief, regardless of the form it takes, is a crucial important part of the healing process as it helps us gather the strength to hold onto the good memories from the ones who have left us. If you’ve experienced an impactful loss this past year, you’ll know already how important that is.
Even though I wish I could see my loved ones, for now, I understand why we need to stay apart. Pandemic restrictions are in place to protect those who are physically vulnerable, and as difficult as it is to not see my friends and family at this time, I understand that this is what needs to happen. For the health and safety of those I love, including my mom, I know that staying at home and abiding by provincial health guidelines is the best and only option. For everyone who has lost someone with the past year and feels isolated from the ones they love, I feel for you. Although my words may not make what you’re going through any easier, I hope that they may make you feel less alone.
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