You wake up. You force yourself out of bed to face the day. You go downstairs, hunched over and desperate to remove the machete that seems to be lodged in your heart.
You make your coffee. You say hello to your baby boy. When you've managed to get your clothes on and collect enough courage to walk out the door, you see it. His favorite coffee mug. Her precious scarf. That ridiculous set of DVDs he never got rid of, even though he never watched them.
Or the memories attack you out of nowhere: her laughter is vivid, as if she's right in front of you. Or his touch has so infiltrated your mind that you can't believe you're merely imagining him.
Then the bricks are showered down upon you. It begins to sink in, and there's no escaping it.
They're not here. And they're not coming back.
If this is your first holiday without a loved one, you may feel crippled with a debilitating pain that you can't quite articulate. It's both a physical and a psychological pain, and it feels more vivid and real than reality itself.
Despite everyone telling you how frantic things are this time of year, the grieving person faces a different experience of time: as the world goes by, time stops and refuses to move. It's like being caught in a vortex of pain, utterly trapped. You're not getting out of this one. You might as well be finished. Plain and simple.
I've experienced the first time too many times now. Every time it was a shit storm of confusion and pain and longing and oh-dear-god-how-the-hell-did-this-happen. It didn't get easier. Every experience was like having an artery punctured and being left for dead. Only I didn't die. The bleeding just kept on coming.
At the same time, there was one overwhelming experience that was always present with every loss: I became consumed with a surge of love so strong it nearly wrecked me. This was an aching love, the kind of love that rushes up throughout you, desperate to burst. Its intensity shatters you to your core, because you can't give this love anymore. Your loved one isn't there to receive it. The greatest gift in your being doesn't have a home, leaving this love to collapse inside of you with nowhere to go.
This is the kind of love that doesn't feel good at all, but is necessary for your survival.
If the grief of the holidays is crushing you, you are probably experiencing your own version of this. This is anything but easy. It doesn't feel like there's anything to learn, you may have no sense of redemption, and no matter how grateful you may feel for the time you had with them, you're pissed. You want them back. And you have every right to.
I could give you all kinds of advice for how to deal with this, but that wouldn't serve you nearly as well as one simple request: as you feel your agony, your horror and your unbearable exhaustion, I ask only one thing: I beseech you to love, and love completely.
I'm not talking about the airy-fairy, pseudo-spiritual "love" that's based on consumerist notions of feeling good, I'm talking about the kind of love that's borne of our refusal to bow down to apathy and hate. The kind that's fucking resilient, that takes a stand for what's right, and demands that you take care of yourself precisely when you want to throw in the towel and die.
This is the kind of love that moves you to wrap your arms around your daughter, even though your son is no longer here and your physical faculties are numb.
This is the kind of love that compels you to reach out to your friend who's just been cheated on, even though you're in the middle of your own divorce and feel abandoned by the world.
And this is the kind of love that isn't based upon how you feel, but upon honoring your loved one's memories with every fiber of your being.
It's time to practice radical gentleness. Gentleness is usually conflated with weakness, but that's a huge mistake. Gentleness is perhaps the purest expression of vulnerability. I'm not talking about taking a bubble bath and drinking tea and lighting candles while you treat yourself to a massage. Those activities have their place, but they merely treat the symptoms of our pain. We must submerge ourselves below the symptoms, reaching to see the part of ourselves that we don't want to face.
I'm talking about experiencing gentleness as an annihilation: a giant fuck you to the regret, the self-hatred, the internal loathing, the seemingly impenetrable shame. This can only be accomplished with gentleness. Active gentleness. With yourself and with those still with you.
As their absence screams inside of you, meet those wails with the most urgent love you can muster.
There are few things in this life more brave.