Like everyone in my family, I have always had a confusing and difficult relationship with New Years. And honestly, I really have struggled to know how to start this blog. Even though I have spent almost six years now working in the grief space, I have never wanted to broach this subject or share this story. New Years and grief? No thank you. Some things are just too close to home.
On my first New Years in 1985 when I was three months old, my family experienced the heart wrenching (a word that is clearly nowhere near strong enough) loss of my grandmother to suicide. For thirty-five years now, grief has been the story of the holiday.
And although of course I do not remember those early raw days of trauma and grief, it permeated every pore of the holiday, forever tying the playful sounds of festive New Year’s Eve horns with the gut wrenching reality of raw loss.
Like a hulking shadow, my grandmother’s loss constantly lurked, no matter how or what we did to outrun it. Most of the first years I obviously don’t remember – I was a tiny infant, but I was probably in elementary school by the time that I realized that our New Years was different than that of my peers, with its cloud of loss and grief.
My mother led the charge to help us redeem and reclaim New Years. She made beautiful and selfless efforts to spread the festive spirit of the New Year. Our home became where you wanted to be on New Years. When we were little, my parents hosted huge all out bashes. Their group of friends would congregate in our home, with their gaggles of kids of all ages. Young and old would dance to Paul Simon and do the conga line around our living room until the babies and the toddlers would fall asleep amongst the chaos on my parent’s brown carpet.
If I sit very still now, I can still feel the spirit of these parties. They really do stand alone, the type of nights that you remember for decades and look back with all the fondness that a soul can bear. They are still some of the best memories of my childhood. But now, looking back as an adult, I realize what a paradox my mother must have experienced. What do you feel when you create such an all out celebration on the anniversary of what might be the worst day of your life?
There were hard years too. There were years when we left for vacations and trips on the beach and we pretended all was fine. No matter what we said out loud or shared with each other, we all felt loud and clear drumbeat of loss. We were caught in it together, year after year. Some years it seemed as though we collectively felt the loss more acutely than others, and the push and pull of that reality was sometimes hard.
Beautiful stories about my grandmother emerged too. Every year around the holidays, we would find ourselves talking about her. I always felt her closer while we were gathered together on the New Year. My favorite parts of these stories were when someone would share how she lit up the room, how everyone wanted to be near her, how her vivacious spirit and zest for life made her irresistible. We would hush, silent and holy to feel a piece of her near.
Although I don’t remember her, I envision her often – from the stories I’ve heard, she was beautiful, stylish, and the life of the party. And even now, decades separated from the loss, sometimes I see a woman in the grocery store or online as I scroll social media and I stop. “Does this woman look like her? Did she wear her hair trimmed cropped close just like that? The shape of her profile – did it look like this? These facial features that my mother so clearly passed on to me, did they come from her? Were she here still, what would our story have been?”
Like basically every blog I’ve ever written, I don’t have a tidy bow to put on the end of this. This is just my story. A story of a family who has felt loss, and also felt joy, and then felt the pull and push of loss and joy intermingled together. Because if there is anything I’ve learned from six years of talking about grief, grief becomes a story of joy and grief entwined. Wherever you are right now, give yourself space to be there. This is your story.