This is an excerpt from an article written on Eterneva.
My 2 year old baby cousin, Brady, died when I was 5 years old.
I still remember the last Christmas we had together like it was yesterday. A memory etched in stone. Brady and I were both gifted matching red phones. I showed him how to use the big red phone to call me and we played our toddler version of telephone.
Little did I know that next year I’d be the only one on the line.
The next Christmas our family followed our regular traditions. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins showed up at our house on Christmas day and we all got through the day.
As a kid I was happy to be around my cousins… it was always what I looked forward to the most during the holidays and this year was no different. However, the cloud of sadness that permeated the room was impassable for all of us.
We were all missing the same person, whether it was our cousin, child, nephew, or grandchild.
While some family members wanted to avoid the pain and didn’t want to discuss Brady, others found comfort in talking about his life and what it would be like if he was still here.
Our family isn’t perfect. We had tense moments and difficult times around the holidays, and a lot of hurt that we didn’t always know how to navigate.
We’ve celebrated many holidays since then, together and apart. Our family has shrunk and grown with passing deaths, marriages, and births. We’ve adapted, evolved, and grown closer together.
Over the years, the holidays became easier to digest. We’ve all grown more open to discussing Brady’s life and our love for him, along with the lives of grandparents, parents, extended family and friends.
Our hardened and protective shields slowly broke down and we now share a softer side with one another.
To this day, I still think about Brady on Christmas, his birthday, and other holidays our family celebrates together that he never got to attend. I think about the toys he never got to open on Christmas morning, all of the cookies he never had the chance to eat, the beers he never got to drink with us cousins. Our holiday traditions he had to miss out on.
The memory of his life hasn’t gone away… if anything, it’s strengthened.
Now, I think about how Brady has shaped me, my cousins, aunts, uncles, and parents into more grateful, resilient, and empathetic people. He had a profound impact on each of us that will carry with us for the rest of our lives. In that way, Brady is forever with us in our hearts and at the core of what makes each of us who we are.
Decades later, the holidays are different for our family. Joy has returned and the cloud of sadness has dissipated.
We celebrate and talk about the lives we’ve lost, we create space for ourselves to feel what we need to feel, we support each other, and we are grateful for what we have in our lives.
We are better equipped to cope with losses and devastation because of the support system we’ve created for each other. This took time, vulnerability and hard conversations to create, but it sure was worth it.
If there’s anything I learned through my cousin’s death, it’s that when we lose someone significant in our life, there will be a new normal that we will need to adjust to. Everyone grieves and copes with loss differently, and so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to moving on after a loved one’s death.
That being said, I’ve rounded up recommendations from people who’ve been in bereavement during the holidays and experts to help all of us find our own healthy ways to deal with grief during the holidays. Read more at Eterenva.