grief and the holidays...

okay, so i get it, this isn't one of those fun and shiny holiday blog posts most of us love...however one of those will be coming soon. ;) the thing is, not everyone is ready for a fun and shiny holiday season, and unfortunately, that's just real life sometimes. some of you are really hurting right now. i am really hurting right now. my family is really hurting right now. if you have been reading my blog for a bit or follow me on instagram, you know that since the passing of my brother i tend to grieve maybe a bit louder than some, or maybe a bit louder than some might like. what i know though is that everyone's grief is different and everyone grieves differently...and that's okay. if you grieve quietly...that's okay too. i just knew earlier on, and from past deaths of loved ones in my life, that i had to walk through this one differently, and be honest and communicative with people. i guess i need people to know i'm not over my brother's death, i still cry multiple times a day, often multiple times an hour, i hurt in every way possible, and it's okay. i'm determined to feel this grief. i've run away from grief before and trust me, it doesn't end well. for instance, and i won't give any spoilers here, but if you watch the television show this is us, they are covering that very topic right now. you may try to ignore grief, but it will find you, even years down the road. i will never be over my brother's passing, never, but i hope to heal somewhat. so, here i am trying my best to hit this stupid beast head on. i fail often. i'm sure i'll look back and maybe realize i didn't do xyz right, or i'll have regrets, but i'm trying. there ought to be an award given to grievers who show up when they have to crawl to get there.

rewind here - pre-may 2017, i was the biggest christmas fan you might have ever crossed paths with. it's true. as a little girl i would begin christmas prep during my summer break, just ask anyone in my family. i would play christmas albums {totally dating myself here} and write my script for my annual christmas play that i forced my nephew and sister to participate in, and i would force them to rehearse all summer long. basically, i drove my family nuts. fast forward to christmas as an adult and it looked pretty much the same, minus christmas music in the summer...and i no longer dance and sing for all of my family a gift to them. i do sing and dance for my immediate family quite often though. ;) however, several years ago we started putting our christmas tree up during the second weekend of november. oh the travesty! ha ha! why you ask? well, several years ago a company my husband worked for was forced to downsize and he lost his job the second week of november. we were sitting in our living room, feeling blue, and suddenly dominic looked at me and said, "hey, do you want to put up the christmas tree?!" this was very out of his sometimes "bah hum bug" character, mind you, and i jumped at that opportunity, and it's been the same way ever since. we don't have thanksgiving dinner at our house, thanks to our mothers, so early christmas decorations work for us, plus i love to be ahead of the game and enjoy the season a bit longer. oh and even though i no longer write scripts for christmas plays, we do throw a pretty massive christmas party every christmas eve that we just LOVE to have and we invite everyone and joke.

back to present day - when my brother passed my world seemed to completely crumble all around me and i thought there is no way christmas will be merry this year. how can i possibly throw a PARTY or even decorate for that matter?!? thanksgiving?!? how on earth will my family stand around in a huge circle at my mom's house before praying for our meal so each of us can take turns saying what we are thankful for this year?!? halloween is already tainted as it is my other brother's birthday who passed away at only eighteen months, pre my entrance into the world. it's strange to mourn and miss someone you never met, but still feel so strongly connected to. did i mention my brother gabriel's birthday is in december on top of all of this?! this is the thing though - every anniversary of anything during grief is like a tidal wave that takes you out over and over again. in fact, i highly recommend reading this article by john pavlovitz, about more on that. it's so spot on and i'm thankful for a friend who sent it my way.

back to whether i have decided to celebrate the holidays or not this year. well, i have three daughters, things aren't always about me, and so yes, there will be a party on christmas eve, we will stand together in a circle at my mom's come thanksgiving dinner and we will say what we are most thankful for, life will go on. it will be painful, but it will be beautiful too. it's a choice i have to make every single second of every single day. don't get me wrong, sometimes i chose to stay in bed and cry and that's okay too.

okay, so i am obviously no expert on grief at all whatsoever. again, everyone grieves differently and no one, absolutely no one, should tell you how to grieve, make you feel like you're not grieving "right", or put a timeline on your grief, ESPECIALLY those who have never lost someone close to them. i just want to share a few ways i/my family have chosen to honor, grieve, and celebrate my brother during this time. now, i don't say any of these things to make anyone feel bad, obligated, or to brag in any way at all. i come from a home where we were encouraged to help others any time we were able, but we were also encouraged not to brag about it, and not to embarrass the person/s you helped by doing so, otherwise it kind of steals the blessing from them, you know? my parents were ALWAYS helping someone out, even though they had very little themselves, but i never heard them tell a soul when they did. i loved that about them. i guess that's why i'm a bit hesitant to share some of my list. suggesting charities and the like doesn't bother me at all, i think that's great, but mentioning particular acts i partake in kind of does. however, after much contemplation, and knowing my heart in mentioning these things, i have come to realize these are just practical tips to help a grieving heart, and maybe they'll help yours too, even if you aren't grieving. sometimes mentioning such things is beneficial and can even become contagious, so here we go...

let's start with my birthday, shall we?: my first birthday, the beginning of the first official year of my life without my brother. can i tell you i had no idea the pain that day would entail? i literally cried throughout the entire day. my husband took the day off of work {thankfully} and the two of us tried to go to lunch {my daughters were at school}, but i had to leave the restaurant {in tears} before ordering, i left stores the same way, you get the idea. no one was allowed to sing happy birthday to me because the song itself put me in tears...again. i had no grand way or thoughts to honor my brother that day, but i allowed myself just take it easy. lunch ended up being burgers and fried in my favorite park. we were surrounded by trees with the most beautiful and colorful autumn leaves and it literally looked like it was snowing leaves all around us. it was magic. it was my brother and God's gift to me that day. so again, nothing "special" on that day, but sometimes we need permission to just be. it's okay to turn down birthday celebrations, but it's okay if you want to throw a huge party too.

halloween: i've never been a huge halloween fan, because of my previous mention. it's always been a bit of a somber day in my family, but we still have fun, and my daughters love to dress up and celebrate. we decided we would get our favorite pizza and watch scary movies, as my younger daughters requested, but i also knew i wanted to hand out my brother's favorite candy to the trick or treaters. you guys, my brother LOVED reeses's peanut butter cups, i mean LOVED. i often took him one/a few when i visited him, and i liked to include a large bag in with his christmas gift because he loved them that much. so we bought a huge bag and mixed them in with an assortment of other candy, and gave them away all night long. the first one i gave away was honestly hard, and it was inwardly emotional each time. thankfully i never burst into tears as i handed them to all of the adorable children who awaited their sweet treats. had i though, it would have been okay. who knew candy could stir up so many emotions?!? it did give me joy as i gave each child one of my brother's favorite treats. he loved children. i have to admit that i myself could not stomach a single peanut butter cup that night, so i gorged myself with mini snickers instead. i did manage to have one the next day when i was alone in my kitchen and i toasted my brother as i took my first bite.

thanksgiving: as we all know local homeless shelters serve hot meals around the holidays and one of our favorite local homeless shelters serves a HUGE thanksgiving meal all day long at our downtown convention center. typically there is a live band and the meal is served restaurant style, which i love. so basically those serving the food become waiters for the day and deliver the food to the festively decorated tables and wait on those seeking a hot meal during the meal time. this also allows for more intimacy and conversations with the people you serve. again, i love this because you get to find out how easily any of us can be put into such a tough position. my great big family and i plan to do this the day before thanksgiving. you see, it's hard to see past my own pain during this time, but it's so necessary. everyone is walking through something, right? why not walk through it together?

christmas: i haven't figured out everything for this one yet, but i do plan to burn a candle in my house the entire month in honor/remembrance of my brother. we will have our christmas eve party because i want my girls to have a magical christmas, because i am choosing to remember why we celebrate in the first place - Jesus' birth, because we throw this party every year as a gift to our family and friends, and because my brother would want us to have it. i am already listening to christmas music. typically, my daughters and i start that crazy train november 1st, hey, it's better than during summer break! ;) i didn't start listening till november 3rd this year, and honestly, i forced myself to do it. i cry most every song when i'm in the car solo, but again, it's okay. my brother loved christmas too. he loved our traditional new mexican christmas foods such as posole, red chile, and tamales. he even loved chocolate covered cherries - yuck. ;) i've never been able to stomach those, but i already have anxiety over seeing the first box of the season. honestly, i think for the first time in my life i've been dealing with anxiety since he left us, and the anticipation of the holidays doesn't help.

december 13th, my brother gabe's birthday: i'm not sure how we will celebrate quite yet. a very close friend lost her sister just a couple of months before my brother passed and i love what they did for her birthday - they released balloons with messages for her sister on that day. i'm thinking something meaningful like that, but obviously it's a family decision, and we still need to discuss it as a family. after we signed up to serve at the homeless shelter for thanksgiving, my mom mentioned she may want to do that again on my brother's birthday, and that would be so nice too. i'm thinking that would be a good thing to happen again in december either way.

new year's eve: i have no idea on this one yet either but i will be sooo happy and sooo afraid to leave 2017. why both happy and afraid? well, it has definitely been one of the worst year's in my life, but it was also the last year i had my brother physically present with me. grief is weird. you feel stuck but yet you're afraid to move forward.

i honestly thought the holidays would be utterly unbearable, and sometimes it feels like they are, but i'm also shocked and relieved to discover that i am actually looking forward to them too, most of the time...not all of the time. i am actually feeling the magic and blessings in this painfully beautiful way i never have before. it's so hard to describe. sometimes i feel guilty, but then i remember, i'm allowed to feel happy, and i should always, always, always be thankful. one of the reasons i love thanksgiving so much is because we all have something to be thankful for, and i have it in abundance. of course i have my "woe is me" moments/days/weeks, and there are times i am still very angry, but i am continually reminded to look around and be thankful. think of my brother and be thankful. if the holidays are unbearable for you this year, it's okay. i've had almost six months to land here.

so, if you're still with me, then i commend you. i don't have all of the answers. really, i don't have any answers. i just wanted to share just in case it can help someone too. remember to just stop and take it all in this season: the magic and the pain. it's okay. remember to breathe - long, deep breaths. remember to look around and see those in need - does that single mom need a christmas tree? does that man need a coat? does a co-worker maybe need an anonymous gift card to give his/her family a turkey dinner or to buy presents for their children? does that wealthy or poor widow need a visit or help hanging her lights? what about all of the people who have survived hurricanes in texas and puerto rico, they still need our help. it only takes a little time and effort to go the extra mile, to make a difference in someone's world, to pay it forward.

p.s. - the wallpaper in this photo of my bedroom mantel is a tribute to my brother as well. roses are one of our symbols for him. i find honoring him in little ways, such as this, really helps me too.