On Loss, Grief, and Christmas

This is going to be a difficult holiday season for all of us.

From a very young age, I remember being brainwashed into thinking our house needs to look like Kevin McCallister’s house in order to have a proper Christmas. The monolithic tree. Oodles of ribbons and wreaths. Food, lights, sweaters, candles, love masquerading as passive-aggressive compliments. But that’s (mostly) Hollywood. That’s not always reality. In reality, holidays are supposed to be about one thing only: family.

For many of us who will stay home and FaceTime and Zoom and play JackBox and Among Us during the holidays, it will not be the same. It will suck. But you will be joining millions of people who will also be making sacrifices, opting to remain physically separated but finding creative ways to feel some semblance of togetherness. And you will be demonstrating to your family and community the patience and discipline that will let our science-guided experts do their thankless, often invisible, life-saving work to fight this pandemic.

If your family is safe and healthy this holiday season, you have won the lottery.

But my heart breaks for the families who will be facing their first holiday season after losing a loved one. Maybe a dad, a mom, a grandparent, a sibling, an uncle or aunt. Maybe a best friend, or a mentor, or a respected work colleague, or a high school buddy you never caught up with. Maybe from COVID or cancer or a heart attack or a drunk driver or suicide or it was simply God’s time to call them home after a long and full life.

Really, truly, this may be a very dark time for you.

If you’re reading this and lost a loved one twenty years ago, or six months ago, or said goodbye to someone yesterday on an iPad, I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. Far from it.

Your loss is not your own. You are joining a new family who is very familiar with loss. We call ourselves humans, and death and loss and grief have been our collective experience for quite a long time. Death, believe it or not, is part of our lives. And this holiday season, we will be welcoming millions of new families thrust into this life-shattering position by COVID-19.

Death is not an unfamiliar blip on the timeline of human experience. It is the norm. This is not to trivialize your loss in any way. It is merely to extend a hand and say, humbly, that we all grieve alongside you. Your loss is not your burden to carry. It is now our burden, and we all carry it with you.

When my dad died in 2019, I never had a final goodbye. His death–like everything else in life–just happened. And while I didn’t grieve for the past–nope, not for one second–I was crushed by the prospect of a future that was taken away.

Next year is a new year. For some, it may feel like a breath of fresh air, a chance to be a new person. For others, it may be impossible to comprehend a new year of life in which someone special is missing.

But all we can do is remind ourselves of the many things we have to be grateful for. We have air. We have water. We woke up today. And our hearts are still beating.

Senior Director of Digital Communications & Brand Experience at NYU School of Global Public Health / Podcast Producer / Occasional Bowhunter