Grateful but grieving

Sometimes it’s hard to be cheerful during the holidays, but family helps

The holidays, often described as the most wonderful time of the year, can be full of emotional landmines as everyone travels home to be with family. Thanksgiving to me is decorated fall wreaths, spice scented candles, homemade pecan pie and the pitter-patter of little feet around the dinner table when my cousins come to visit. Thanksgiving means warmth and thankfulness and the longsuffering dedication of all Detroit Lions football fans; however, the holiday can also be a time of great emotional stress.

When my family comes together, I am reminded of those who are no longer with us. No matter how excited I am to go home, a little bit of dread sits unwanted in my stomach. Empty chairs where loved ones used to sit seem unnerving and food hasn’t quite tasted the same without my busia in the kitchen.

My great grandfather is an independent 94 year old man, and his age is starting to catch up with him. He is the most important man in my life, and being away at Ferris has been a continual trial. Going home to see him with my own eyes is always a blessing for me, and the holidays is a wonderful excuse to travel.

The last few months especially have ushered in dementia that is slowly becoming more noticeable.  He is a version of my grandpa—a man who is still kind, funny and considerate to everyone around him—but he speaks less, loses his train of thought, has to be reminded of earlier events and needs more physical help as time goes on. I’m scared of what he’ll forget when I’m gone. I know my time with him is limited, and I am unsure of how many more holidays we will have left together. Regardless if he remembers celebrating Thanksgiving with all of us down the road, I want to make memories and surround him with all of the love that I can.

Introspective during the holiday season, I find that grief affects us all in different ways. When writing this column, I encountered the words “anticipatory grief.” To put words to the confusing emotions I am feeling is a profound relief. Anticipatory grief can begin as soon as death is on the horizon. Turning my back on that likelihood would be naïve and even more hurtful in the end. Grief isn’t just about accepting death, but also the losses felt along the way.

I am smiling, thankful in my grief for my wonderful family. Grief is intensely felt love that I don’t know what to do with sometimes. I have more time with my grandfather, which is more than almost everyone else I know. While I am grieving the changes, the hearth of our fireplace is warm, and comfort is bountiful in the food and banter all around me.

Here are a few tips if you find yourself in a similar situation during the holiday season: set realistic expectations for yourself, surround yourself with love and family, allow yourself to feel the breadth of your emotions and take the time to care for yourself. Sometimes it is hard to tear yourself away from the festivities, but stepping away can keep things manageable.

I believe that the most important thing is to recognize that there is no wrong way to celebrate the holidays, and Thanksgiving is a time to surround yourself with love and good company. A stomach full of good food never hurts either. I’m looking forward to homemade stuffing and turkey covered in gravy. I am thankful for everyone in my support system, and hopefully the Lions win against the Chicago Bears.