Reliving Last Years Grief
Finally, the most difficult time of year is over. Christmas is not a joyous time for me. I’m not sure if it’s outside social pressure which makes me dread the holiday season, or just a self imposed expectation to keep it together and look happy. For as long as I can remember I’ve disliked Christmas. My life has never seemed like the postcard photos sent to me by extended family members, nor the iconic white upper middle class families seen in holiday movies which everyone seems to obsess over.
My grandma died 4 years ago on Christmas day. That was the first time in years, that I wasn’t working at the funeral home during the holidays. There aren’t many things more disheartening and strangely comforting than working a family viewing alone on Christmas morning; or picking up someone’s loved one. One who has passed away on a day which is supposed to be transformatively merry. I wanted to work it, I felt like I could relate to these people. I didn’t have to share what was going on with me. That has always seemed easier than facing the personal questions from people who care about me.
Last year I had 3 friends suddenly pass away between November and January. It was a devastating time. Which was followed by a breakdown. I left my job. I had spent a solid week crying. I believed I had accepted those deaths. That I had gone through my grief, processed it. In actuality, one week is not enough for that much loss.
I completely avoided all thoughts and feelings associated with those deaths. As someone who works with others in their time of grief I did not practice what I preach.
In the months that followed, I picked myself up by my bootstraps (an expression I detest). I began recreating my identity (or so I thought). I threw myself into building a business, putting in long hours. I got a life coach, but only focused on aspects which were future goals for myself in the funeral industry.
Buffering with work is never a good thing, regardless of the positive outcome it might have on our careers or the families we serve. Those feelings and that trauma will inevitably come back to haunt us, usually at the most inopportune times. It will affect us by making us insincere, and inauthentic. It causes us to build up walls and avoid intimacy. Something which becomes very apparent during the holidays.
I was terrified of any conversations which might move away from small talk, or that someone might ask me how I’m doing lately. That I would end up a sobbing mess at some Christmas celebration thus ruining it for everyone. I don’t like being that burden. Even though I tell others they are not a burden for grieving.
I have the tendency to evade any emotion which doesn’t come across as powerful. Rather than embracing my grief, I take all those feelings, bury them deep down and distract myself the only way I know how, by focusing on helping other people with their problems.
At work, I can be on. I get laser focused on tasks at hand. Those people need me. Alone at home I can safely numb out, but as soon as a social situation comes up; an invite to a party or gathering where there’s a chance that the conversation would turn personal, my anxiety skyrockets. I literally say to myself, “what is going on with you? You have so much to be thankful for.”
I blame it on being an introvert, or claim I have social anxiety. I believe I’m too weird or awkward to be around people for the holidays. The thought of leaving the house makes me grouchy. I’ve spent an entire year running from my grief and numbing out. I have known other funeral directors who do exactly the same thing.
When we experience pain from loss we want to feel better, right now. Helping other people makes me feel better and is an excuse to avoid myself in the name of helping others. I can honestly say I am addicted to funerals and to my work in the industry. The work has always come first before my family and before me.
I have a deep desire to hide my imperfections. The image I want to project revolves around being a well rounded individual with the perfect life, who can handle anything. I believe I am that person, but I have had an inaccurate vision of what that looks like in real life. Absolutely nobody has a picture perfect Christmas movie family.
My perfect life has to include sobbing about deaths which happened a year or more ago, feeling weird at parties, and being painfully open and honest even when I don’t want to be. Even when it seems like the things from the past are too far gone to face.
I was smoking a cigarette in my friends’ backyard last week. I said “sometimes I just feel too weird.” I had just finished apologising for getting food poisoning and kicking people out of my house a few days prior. I was embarrassed. She looked me straight in the eye and said to me “you know you’re just human right?” That was the biggest relief I have had this season.
I have never considered grief to be an emotion, but It is, and its part of being alive. Just as love, joy, sadness, anger and hatred are part of being alive. Grief is an important human emotion we will all face. Whether due to divorce, sickness, or death, it will come. It will be a part of our lives as conscious beings. It is never too late to experience it even if it comes years later. It is important that we don’t deny ourselves that experience because inevitably to deny one emotion, is to deny them all.
Edited by Amy Setka