From Happy Holidays to Sad Holidays
I used to love Christmas, but now it's just a reminder of the people I've lost.
I have so many good memories of Christmas from when I was a kid. My parents were divorced, and every other year I would spend the night of Christmas Eve and Christmas day at my dad’s house.
My dad and stepmom did the same thing every year for Christmas. My stepmom would pick out pajamas for my sister and I to wear Christmas morning, and excitedly give them to us to wear on Christmas Eve. My grandma always spent the night and somehow was always just as excited as my little sister was to open up presents on Christmas morning.
We’d go to bed on Christmas Eve, my sister rushing to fall asleep and I, for some reason, always staying up way too late. While I was still fast asleep, my sister and Grandma always managed to wake up around 6 in the morning on Christmas Eve. They’d stay quit for a little bit, letting the rest of us sleep but typically around 8 would decide that they had waited too long for gifts and were going to wake everyone up. After going to bed in the wee hours of the morning, I was never thrilled to be woken up by my grandma and sister rushing up to my room and jumping on my bed, telling me I had to come downstairs so we could open gifts. They always convinced me to get up, though.
Half asleep, I’d trudge down the steps, and be greeted by my stepmom making her Christmas breakfast casserole. I’d grab a plate and head to the living room, where my sister would already be surveying her presents and deciding which one she would open first. I would eat my casserole as my sister started opening her first gift, then we’d take turns opening each of ours. I woke up more with each gift, and was fully awake by the time we got to stockings - my favorite part. My dad and stepmom always gave us delicious candy in them and I loved snacking on it throughout the day.
In the afternoon we’d sometimes go see family or just stay home and mess around with the gifts we got. Either way, it was always so much fun.
Christmas used to be fun. Even though I was usually half asleep for part of the Christmas morning joy, and back then I would’ve definitely traded a few pieces of my candy for a few more hours of sleep, I look back on it now and would give almost anything to relive one of those mornings. I didn’t act like it back then, but I secretly loved the pajamas, being woken up early, having the same breakfast, the gifts - everything. I loved Christmas morning at my dad’s house.
Christmas has been different since my dad and stepmom died, though. All holidays have been. Instead of having a good feeling in my stomach when Christmas gets closer and closer, I feel anxious. On Christmas morning, no matter how much fun is put in front of me, it’s hard to enjoy it. Instead of waking up around 8 on Christmas morning, I sleep in. No one comes to jump on my bed and beg me to open gifts with them. When I go downstairs to open gifts, we don’t have casserole. My grandma doesn’t spend the night. Everything is different. No matter how good the day itself is in theory, it just feels like a shell of what it used to be.
It sucks. It sucks that Christmas isn’t like what it used to be. It sucks that I have a hard time enjoying the celebrations because I know it can’t live up to my memories of Christmas as a kid. It sucks that Christmas morning is sad now, because my dad and stepmom both passed away, and all of those good memories I have with them are now surrounded in grief and sadness. It sucks that Christmas, and all of the other holidays I used to love, just feel empty at times, now.
The first Christmas after my dad died, I didn’t even leave my bedroom. We had family over to celebrate and I couldn’t bring myself to join in. The whole day felt like a terrible reminder of my grief and what I had lost, and I didn’t find any joy in it.
The next year still hurt, but was a bit easier. I had fun, but that fun was cloaked in grief. I couldn’t see a stocking without seeing the one at my dad’s house or do a simple tradition without remembering all of the ones that were left behind.
The years after got easier, but were still hard in some ways. I can have fun and not think about my dad and stepmom for a bit, but they’re always in the back of my mind. Christmas has gotten better, but it’s not the same, and sometimes that’s all I can think about. This year I am able to enjoy the festivities surrounding Christmas, but when I stop and think about it too much, I get sad. It has gotten easier, but it’s not easy.
No matter where you’re at this year, I want you to know that it’s okay to be there. It’s okay if Christmas feels daunting, if it’s the day you’re looking forward to most, or if you don’t even know what to feel. It’s okay if you’re in the mood to celebrate and it’s okay if you’re not. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no right or wrong way to grieve during a holiday. You don’t have to make yourself be sad all day and keep yourself from having fun, but at the same time, if you are sad, it’s okay to sit in it for a bit and give yourself space to feel those big emotions.
Holidays can be hard, especially when you’re grieving. This holiday season, I hope you give yourself space to feel whatever emotions you are having - good or bad - and that you surround yourself with love and support. I hope you are able to find some joy in it, too, and if you don’t, that you hold onto hope for a better holiday in the future. There is always hope for a better day.
Written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks.