Getting Through The Holidays After The Death of a Loved One: How I Did It

MatthewsPlace.com
Dec 22, 2020 · 5 min read

by Ryan Shea

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2020 has been a year like no other. We have been forced to change from our everyday normal into a new normal that is something we’re still getting used to months into this seemingly never-ending pandemic.

The holiday season is already tough for millions of people out there as what is supposed to bring joy and happiness ultimately leads to sadness and depression for a multitude of reasons.

COVID has kicked the latter into high gear due to us not being able to see loved ones because of statewide travel restrictions. There’s also those who lost a family member or friend due to this disease that are spending their first holiday season without them.

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I am someone who has dealt with this sort of emotional roller coaster for several years now way before COVID was even a thing. My mother Lisa tragically lost her life to brain cancer sixteen years ago right before Christmas Day. It was something she was battling for nearly a year before she took her last breath in a hospital room on Long Island.

This was a situation that I went into thinking she would survive. When she was diagnosed I had a hard time believing that this was the reality our family had to face as she was a vibrant and healthy mother, sister, friend and overall amazing human being prior to this beginning.

I’m someone who was taught to always see the glass half full and did so for months as she battled this monster of a disease. The way I viewed that glass was challenged many times as I saw her suffer greatly throughout her cancer journey. She lost her hair, underwent a mastectomy procedure and couldn’t work because of her exhaustion from her chemo and radiation.

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I always made sure to put a smile on her face even though the task of doing so seemed insurmountable. Telling her how gorgeous she was, reminding her that she’s my hero and being a shoulder to cry on were three of the things I did to ease the physical and mental pain she was in.

There were times when everything appeared to be getting better. The tumors in her brain shrunk, she was able to go back to work again and her usual upbeat demeanor appeared more and more both and home and when she was out and about. I was lucky enough to have her at milestone moments in my life including prom, high school graduation and my first day at college.

Then her health took a turn for the worse when I went home for winter break in December. Things went downhill very quickly and the reality of how long she was going to live at that point took front and center. Fear took over and my daily worriment revolved around when we would receive the call that she had passed as we checked her into a hospital days before it happened.

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Her passing occurred minutes before we went to her hospital room to surprise her with rice pudding and the love we had for her. Instead we found her dead leading to a night that I have a hard time remembering all these years later. The pain from that evening is something I’ve blocked in my head minus the times it comes back in nightmare form or when I can really think clearly about what exactly happened.

Having to call everyone the day after and wish them both a Merry Christmas and to tell them about her death and when the wake/funeral was going to take place was pure torture. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s holidays but they needed to know this information so what the heck was I going to do?

If that wasn’t bad enough, I had to go back to college a week after she died. Luckily I had a fantastic support system that encouraged me to head back to school as she would’ve wanted me to. Not only that but it became my escape from the reality of the situation as so many things in our house, from her clothes to voice on the answering machine, reminded me of her.

Was it easy to get past her death after it happened? Hell no. And anyone who says differently in my eyes is wrong. It took me an awfully long time for me to continue on as I kept thinking her passing was a hoax each time I went home from college.

There was a particular and crucial moment that helped me move on. I used to be obsessed with The Oprah Winfrey Show and she discussed the concept of surrendering as something you wanted so badly to the point where it becomes an unhealthy obsession. She used her audition process for The Color Purple as a related example regarding this matter.

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For such a long time I wanted my mother back. I wanted to hug her, tell her I love her and just see her again. It was a repeated dream that I had repeatedly where I would wake up in a fit of tears because it wasn’t real life.

When I saw that episode, oddly enough, I was able to let go of the idea that I will never see her in the physical life but she’s there spiritually and mentally. There have been key moments in my life in the years since where I can feel her presence and guidance that has helped me along the way and put a huge smile on my face.

Not everyone will think the same as me when dealing with the loss of a loved one. But if you can find someplace in your soul to know that life is worth going on and the person you lost is still with you after their death then your future will be much brighter in the process. In other words: your life doesn’t stop because theirs did.

Happy Holidays all.

Ryan Shea is an established writer who has contributed thought-provoking pieces for many different industries. He has worked for major publications including Newsday, Hollywood Life, Instinct Magazine and The Ladders.

Matthew’s Place

MatthewsPlace.com

MatthewsPlace.com

Written by

MatthewsPlace.com is a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation| Words by & for LGBTQ+ youth | #EraseHate | Want to submit? Email sara@matthewshepard.org

Matthew’s Place

MatthewsPlace.com is a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation| Words by & for LGBTQ+ youth | #EraseHate | Want to submit for our publication? Email sara@matthewshepard.org

MatthewsPlace.com

Written by

MatthewsPlace.com is a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation| Words by & for LGBTQ+ youth | #EraseHate | Want to submit? Email sara@matthewshepard.org

Matthew’s Place

MatthewsPlace.com is a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation| Words by & for LGBTQ+ youth | #EraseHate | Want to submit for our publication? Email sara@matthewshepard.org

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