Friday, December 4, 2015

12 DOC: Day Four: Emily Long

*This post is part of our Twelve Days of Christmas series. You can read more here.*

Allowing the Good of the Holidays Again

by Emily Long

Ah, December.

Month #2 of holiday craziness and commercials spouting bright, shiny scenes of happy families and happy faces.

I, on the other hand, have a bit of a love hate relationship with the months of November and December. In some ways, I’m lucky. I have a great family and a wonderful community of friends who love me and support me in many ways.

Then there is my little family, my fiancé and my two daughters. All dead. All gone. Three empty chairs at the holiday tables and three missing loved one from the holiday cheer.

This will be my 13th holiday without my fiancé and my oldest daughter. It will be my 6th without my younger daughter.

Not one of those holiday seasons have been particularly easy, although they are better now than they used to be.

For a couple years, I tried to pretend everything was “normal” (whatever that means!). I went to the usual family gatherings and plastered a happy smile on my face. When I returned home after those visits, I cried myself to sleep for days.

Then for a few years, I made a point to volunteer to work over each holiday. I’d busy myself in work and assisting others, reassuring co-workers I was happy to cover things so they could spend the holiday with their loved ones. Those nights I cried myself to sleep as well.

Then for a few more years, I made a point to go away for the holidays. I’d take myself off to the beach or hunker down in my house for a “staycation” and remove myself as best I could from anything holiday related. I still cried myself to sleep most nights those years.

Regardless of what I did, I always felt alone. I felt alone and unbearably sad and apart from the world. I wanted so badly for people to see how lonely and painful the holidays were for me, yet I couldn’t find a way to tell them what I needed.

Truth be told, I don’t know if they would have been supportive or understood my struggles with the holidays because I never really told them how it was for me. I would never let them in enough to see how badly I was hurting – I just wanted them to somehow magically know. I never really believed that they could understand, even a little.

A few years ago, I spent all of Christmas Day in a sobbing, wrecked mess of grief and pain and loneliness. I ended up lashing out in anger and grief at a dear friend for not being there for me in the way I needed.

Fortunately, she understood more than I ever expected.

She hugged me and allowed me to be angry and sad and lonely without trying to make me feel better. She acknowledged that my life wasn’t what I wanted it to be and that was painful and devastating.

She also reminded me that while life, and the holidays, would never be what I longed for them to be, it was up to me to decide how I wanted them to be now. I might never have the sweet and chaotic Christmas mornings with my daughters, I would never watch my partner struggle to put together bikes or toys, and I wouldn’t watch my daughters run around with their cousins or be spoiled by their grandparents.

But I could decide what I wanted my holidays to be like now.

What traditions did I want to start for myself and possibly continue with a future life partner?

Did I really want to be alone or did I want company?

How did I want to feel during each holiday, in addition to the likely sadness and grief?

What did I want from the people around me?

Was I willing to my family and friends to love me, no matter how I was?

Over the last few years, I’ve experimented with the holidays. What felt the best to me? 

What made them a little more than bearable, even a little enjoyable?

It’s been different on different years. Sometimes I truly do want to be alone. Others I really want the distraction of company and friends.

I’m getting better at allowing myself to feel, and express, all the mixed emotions I feel – sadness, joy, grief, gratitude, and longing. I’m getting better at letting my family and friends in – letting them see all of me and love me anyway.

I still have a long way to go, but I’m learning to find my way through the messiness of the holidays – the good and the sad, the longing and the happy.

The holidays will never be perfect. They will never be what I truly want. There will always be empty chairs and missing people.

And I’m also learning to allow the good of life and the holidays in as well. The people who love me. The twinkle lights. The givingness and generosity. The love and the understanding.

I will never have the holidays I want, but I can still choose to make them something good.

~ ~ ~
Emily Long is the mother of two much-loved daughters, both gone-too-soon. Several months after the death of her fiancé, their daughter Grace was born still. For many years, Emily lived with this loss in silence and isolation. It wasn’t until she experienced the death of her second daughter, Lily, that she finally sought support and created a community of people who helped her find the beauty and joy in life again. Through her own healing process, Emily became an advocate for all families grieving the loss of their children. Emily is a grief counselor in private practice and the author of the new book, “Invisible Mothers.”

Emily works hard to increase education and improve care for bereaved mothers with medical professionals and other counselors. She also works with clients individually to provide support for grieving mothers and fathers. She writes and educates through her website, Emily Long: Archaeologist of the Living. She also writes for Still Mothers, and Still Standing Magazine. 


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