Coping with grief and loss during the holidays
by Amy Kennaugh
Fall is my favorite time of year. I love the cooler weather, autumnal colors, and football. Now, if I could get rid of the second half of the month of October, it would be great!
Wait, what? The entire second half of the month? But there’s Halloween to look forward to.
That’s exactly my point.
I have nothing against Halloween. I love the dressing up and although some of the decorations are not my taste (to each his own) I do love carving jack-o-lanterns and lately, jack-o-pineapples! Another added bonus? The beginning of the candy season.
However, the date itself is what bothers me the most. You see twelve years ago on October 31st, while my kids were at home with their dad trick-or-treating, I was at the bedside of my mother, holding her hand as she took her last breath.
You might be thinking, “Amy, that was twelve years ago” and yes, it was, but at the same time, October 31 happens every single year.
Grief and loss have no time limit. Our friend Merriam-Webster defines grief as: “a deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.”
Grief can be like an ocean that ebbs and flows with the tide. Sometimes you’re at peace, and other times you’re engulfed with emotions. The best description I’ve heard of grief is that it’s like a ball (grief) in a box (you). At first, the ball is very large and it hits every aspect of the box and you never think you’ll be able to live life normally again and it’s very surreal. As time continues, the ball grows smaller as life happens, but it really never goes away. The ball doesn’t hit the box as often, yet it still does at times.
Over the years I’ve sat in both the grief of losing my mother and celebrated her life and death. As a pastor’s wife, I’ve experienced and been a part of how other cultures and people cope with death. In New Orleans, jazz bands and mourners literally dance in the streets as they honor their loved ones. The Irish have wakes that last several days as they stand gathered around enjoying stories, drink, and merriment. In Ghana Africa, elaborate coffins called fantasy coffins are created to bury loved ones.
But one culture’s holiday really resonates with me and helps in the grief over losing my mother. The Latino culture celebrates Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, not as a version of Halloween, but to celebrate the life of the deceased. Beginning on October 31 and observed through November second, Dia de los Muertos invites the spirit of family and friends in the community to mingle with the living in a celebration of life and love.
“The reason these traditions exist is to encourage the souls of the dead to be present, so they might hear the prayers and stories the living are saying. The day also has a celebratory and light-hearted atmosphere, as the living recall entertaining stories about the deceased.” (TalkDeath, 2017)
As a reminder of this celebration of life, I have one of Dia de los Muertos’ most iconic symbols sitting prominently on a chair in my home — the sugar skull.
Death, dying, and funerals are a part of life. Hospitals and cemeteries don’t scare me, morgues don’t scare me. But loss — loss terrifies me.
If you are in a time of grief, it’s okay to be there. As a counselor and a human being, I want you to know you’re not alone in your experiences — in this case, grief and loss.
One common theme in all these cultures is that they rely on family and friends to be with them for as long as needed. For me, as I reflect on these cultures as well as my own beliefs, this year feels a little different. I’ve spent 12 years grieving and I know that feeling loss will never truly go away. I will always feel a twinge of heaviness in my heart.
But on this All Hallow’s Eve, I think this year I’ll be relishing in time with my family, enjoying a cocktail or two, and handing out candy to the beggars that knock on our door.
In spite of the lights, sounds, and decorations depicting death, this year I will be celebrating life.
Amy Kennaugh is a Mental Health Professional who is an intern at Taking Control Counseling Center in North Aurora, Illinois, as she works towards receiving her license in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
Amy has lived in the Western Suburbs of Chicago for five years. She is the wife of a pastor, a mother to three beautiful young ladies and three fur babies. She enjoys walking and enjoying the beauty that is the Fox River Valley.
Amy’s passion is to serve others by seeing their strengths and encouraging them in their daily lives. She will be writing a monthly column with The Modern Domestic Woman to shed a different light on the cares and concerns that women face today.
This article was originally published on October 24, 2019, at The Modern Domestic Woman.