The holiday season can be a horror show for those who have experienced loss of a loved one, especially if the loss happened during this time of year. Regardless of the anniversary date, just know that if you are one of those people who are struggling to keep you head above water during this stressful season, you are not alone. You are entitled to “do the holidays” in the way that works for you, anywhere from totally ignoring the entire scene, to totally indulging like never before.
A year ago I was visiting my mother and youngest sister in New York City. My sister was dying. It was Christmas week. She died on January 8th of this year. Following is a letter I wrote to her on Christmas Day.
Dear “Baby” Sister,
I don’t even know where to start. You are dying. OK, to be politically correct: you are living with a terminal disease, but between you and me, we know what’s going on. You may be my “baby” sister, but you’re not a baby any longer. We can talk about this like two grown-assed women.
You have somehow managed to make it to month #23 since the diagnosis of Bulbar ALS dropped like a bomb into your body and into our lives. I think of Bulbar ALS is a nastier version of ALS that began with your initial perplexing loss of speech, then progressed to an inability to swallow (you haven’t tasted food for months), and now you struggle for every breath. You have courageously turned down the option of intubation and you have a DNR (do not resuscitate) order in place. I hope, when my time comes, I have the cojones to do the same.
You had a good night last night; Christmas carolers, with voices of angels, came to the hospice hospital and sang to you and other patients. A sliver of peace and joy. I am so glad. I’m reminded of a time I sang to you after an 8-hour surgery when you were 9 years old. You had a lung removed. I wish I (or someone) could lullaby you to sleep every night now.
I keep thinking of those who’ve gone before us…Julian [my son], especially. I’ve put in my request that he welcome you to whatever comes next when the time comes. We’ll see if he still listens to me; he didn’t do a particularly great job of it while he was alive. If your Spirits should encounter each other, please remind him he is still missed and that he was always loved.
You too will be missed, baby sister, and have always been loved. I know I haven’t said that enough. We haven’t always gotten along. I regret not having said, “I love you,” more often. I say it now. Over and over. I hope it’s not too late.
Your life and long list of health challenges since your premature birth have not been particularly fair. Disease never is. Why you? I have no satisfying answers to that one. I am SO pissed off this is happening to you. I can’t even fathom your rage. You are enraged, aren’t you? You would be totally justified! But maybe you’ve moved past the anger. Forget I brought it up.
I don’t know what lies in store. I just know that although the clock ticks for all of us, it seems to be ticking a lot faster for you. If I could slow it down, I would.
Love, your big sister, Celenia
Often the things we wish we’d said (or wish we hadn’t) are the things that haunt us after the death of a loved one. The grief counseling that I do addresses this in a very direct manner. If you’re curious, feel free to contact me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org OR if you want to “converse” about this online, add your comments below. Thank you.