I’ll never forget the Christmas my brother shocked himself with the electric fly swatter and mooned my Grandma while trying on the new, albeit probably too tight, pants he’d also been gifted. Always trying to make us laugh, and easily one of the most entertaining people I’ve ever known, Alex always seemed to shine at Christmas time.
When I want to remember the best version of my brother I usually reflect on who he became at Christmas. Over the years as he fell head first into depression and addiction, not every season was his best season. Most of the years were marked with stress, frustration, discouragement, and a deep overarching pain that Alex lived daily, and that my family also carried.
The Christmas season always seemed like a sacred space of much needed family unity and rest. I don’t know what it was about the season that helped things to settle, but Christmas just felt like a deep breath after months of barely breathing. Every little revelation we were granted of who my brother use to be before depression and addiction took over allowed hope to slowly step in.
I’m always amazed at the power of hope. Hope pressed us to anticipate something better than what we’d known. It whispered of a future full of peace, joy, and love. Hope instilled a sense of courage to press into, and persevere towards what was coming. Hope carried us forward even when we felt broken.
This Christmas will mark the third we’ve had without my brother Alex. Alex passed away in April of 2016 really unexpectedly, throwing my family into rhythms of grief I didn’t know existed.
So what did Christmas hold for us in the wake of loss?
It could’ve held busyness, and diving into any and every activity, to forget that another year had come and Alex was not here.
It could’ve held forging new traditions so any memory of Alex at Christmas was not easily stumbled into;
It could’ve held anger and sadness;
It could’ve held all these things, but thankfully it did not, and it does not.
We held space for grief, and as we prepared room for the deep sadness we knew would accompany this season, something beautiful happened.
Hope still found a way in. She stepped in, and sat quietly with grief. She didn’t press grief into a corner or push grief out. Hope and grief can live together, I know I’ve hung out with them both.
Allowing grief in during this season is not a sign of weakness, it doesn’t take away from the hope of Christmas time.
My brother was one of my favourite people at Christmas, and because I hold space for grief, I also hold space for him. His memory lives on through stories, pictures, and traditions, where yes he is missed, but also where how important he is can be fully felt.
The hope I get to sit with in my grief is a more matured hope than before Alex passed away. Where hope once whispered, she now speaks confidently of a future filled with peace, joy, and love. She knows what I’ve been through and the heart of endurance I carry. She’s seen love prevail in hard circumstances. She proclaims a brighter future than I ever could’ve imagined for myself and she no longer needs to carry me. I know how much courage and bravery I have, and now she only needs to light the path and remind me there is good coming.
Prepare room for grief this season. Prepare room for your own grief and disappointments and hold space for those who may be grieving around you.
This season is hard, and it is different without Alex. Tears and laughter often find themselves as companions. Grief is heavy, but there is healing in recognizing that grief is a normal and important part of any loss journey.
In a season that is full of so much more than other seasons, remember that “the more” is sometimes grief: prepare room for grief.
P.S. It’s really important to remember that everyone grieves differently, so preparing room for grief will vary for each person and circumstance. It may look like setting aside a day to honour a lost loved one, hanging a special decoration up they would’ve loved, or enjoying their favourite meal. It may also mean letting go of anger, bitterness, and hurt around unfulfilled dreams and expectations and taking steps forward. Surround yourself with people who can help you see hope. Be gentle with yourself and allow for space to find how the rhythms of grief will sit this season.