I didn’t expect to be still feeling grief at Christmas the year Leo told us he was transgender. By the time December rolled around, I had been living with that knowledge for three hundred and one days.
During those three hundred and one days, I learned and lost. I understood the difference between gender and sexuality. I discovered resources to support myself and Leo. I learned new terminology and acronyms. I rewired my brain to use new pronouns and eventually Leo’s name.
I lost a dream I had carried in my heart since I was a young girl. I grieved the loss of a reality I thought had existed. I cried because I was sad; because I didn’t fully understand how to put my feelings into words I could express, and for no reason at all. Some days I cried because I was so overwhelmed, and tears were all I had to offer. There was one thing I knew to be true.
It wouldn’t always be this way.
No matter how I felt during that time, it wouldn’t last forever. Just as I was getting my bearings, around mid-year, my Grampa died. Just like that, my world went dark. Compounded grief amplifies whatever sense of loss you are already feeling and derails your coping abilities. I couldn’t convince myself it wouldn’t always be this way. I got caught in a grief spiral, and everything felt dark and heavy. I lost all that ground I had gained, and I had to start over.
As we headed towards the holidays that year, I wanted nothing more than to skip them. How did anyone expect me to be cheery when I was trying to sort out not having a daughter in my life anymore? How were we going to get through the holidays without my Grampa? I couldn’t even think about it without crying.
Some years it neither looks nor feels like Christmas.
That year, I let myself off the hook for the holidays. I didn’t apologize for not being cheerier than I was. I didn’t show up to family get-togethers. I knew that not every holiday was going to look like that one. That I might always feel some grief at Christmas, but not to that extent.
I find myself once again in the middle of grief at Christmas. This time for different reasons. When the pandemic started earlier in the year, I don’t think any of us thought we’d still be here. Still separated from our loved ones as we headed into the holidays and the end of the new year. Like most of you, I’m weary and sad. I miss gathering with my people. I want to have my kids, who I haven’t hugged in a year now, home under my roof. We muddled through Thanksgiving, but now another month has passed.
Christmas spirit is hard to come by this year.
So I’ve reverted to old habits. I keep reminding myself that it won’t always be like this. A pandemic won’t separate us from our loved ones. We’ll be able to gather again. One day it will be safe to hug our people. Vaccines are coming, and next year we might be able to spend Christmas together.
If you suffer from compounded grief this year, multiple losses that feel like they might drown you, hold tight. The only way out is through. This year will end. We’ll go into next year with hope held loosely in our hands. Your heart will mend, and one day the pain won’t be as sharp. Let yourself feel all the things. Cry. Scream into the void. Skip the Zoom get-togethers. Put your PJs on at 3:30 and call the day over. We don’t get over grief; we move through it. Move through the holidays in the best way you can. Reach out for help if you need extra support. Remember that it won’t always be this way. Let that bit of hope carry you through the darkness.