The period between Halloween and New Year’s — what I usually call “the Holidays” — is the time of year I’ve always most enjoyed. Christmas music, chilly weather, early evenings, annual reunions with family — all of that made waking up each day my absolute favorite. I would reflect on what I was thankful for, look forward to celebrating with family around Christmas, and plot how I would take hold of next year to make it the best year of my life.
This year, on Thanksgiving and I presume on Christmas, too, is different. This is the first holiday season without my sister, and it’s a reminder that we’re already quickly approaching the anniversary of her passing.
Life during grief is a period of firsts: the first night, the first morning, the first month, the first holidays, the first birthday, and more and more until you reach that first anniversary. It feels like once you’ve experienced enough of those firsts that nothing else will surprise you. (I guess grief also makes you naive, because when I wrote that sentence, I realized just how ignorant it is.) Thanksgiving still managed to surprise me.
It was a reminder of how hard it is to feel thankful sometimes. We’re socialized to believe that no matter what, we have something to be grateful for. To an extent that’s true: If we have food, water, shelter, or all of our basic needs met, then we do have a reason to be grateful. But it’s also dismissive of how empty our hearts feel while grieving.
I have a support system that keeps me afloat and continuing toward the future, I have a job I’m proud of, I’m currently writing this column, and I’m starting to make a difference in the CF community. I’m so grateful for all of these things.
In the back of my mind, though, I can’t help but neglect the realization that celebrating a holiday with my sister Alyssa, making fun of her, making fun of my parents with her, or whatever else it is will never happen again. It’s these holidays that trigger the scariest feeling: It will never happen again. It’s impossible not to sound bitter here, but this is a part of grieving, and I won’t continue to heal without recognizing these feelings.
Of course, I don’t feel as grateful as I did last year or the year before. Why would I? This is the most difficult year of my life. I have to give myself space to heal to understand the complicated emotions that come with grief, especially when that grief is as complex as witnessing my own possible future in my sister’s demise. I have a lot to be fearful of due to the reality of cystic fibrosis. If I don’t give myself the self-care I need, I can’t examine the growth that comes with grieving, and I surely can never feel genuinely as grateful as I used to without doing that self-reflection.
Maybe not feeling wholesomely grateful for the first time in my life allows me to remember what life is about. Life is a dynamic learning curve. It’s this game of life that allows for the best joy — some of my best memories will always be with my sister — to be paired with some of the most agonizing sorrow — knowing that my parents and I will never entirely heal from this pain. Life isn’t always fun and it isn’t always bad, but one thing is for sure: It isn’t boring. My sister knew that. And for that, at least, I’m grateful.
Follow Tré at his humbly named website www.trelarosa.com.
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