Dealing With Grief During Festive Seasons

Every year when we come to the festive season (for us in Malaysia it's Hari Raya Aidilfitri), it is the hardest time for me. Not just for me, but also for my parents.

A loss during the holidays is hard

I lost my sister during Raya. (We both had/have spinal muscular atrophy) It wasn’t an easy thing for all of us. Even though we were supposed to celebrate Raya, it is not the same anymore.

I admit grieving takes time.

When a loved one has died, the first festive season without them can be a daunting milestone. What was once a jolly time of year to gather with family can feel lonely and painful.

The feeling of missing a loved one might become more pronounced when contrasted with all the ongoing festivities. It feels strange and disorienting because I feel her absence in a new way, and with the realization of how different our annual traditions are going to be.

How do I cope with the challenges? 10 years of losing my sister taught me a lot.

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Keeping the memories

I remember my family used to go back to our hometown every Raya season. Usually, we will go back on the day itself or during the fasting month. It would take at least 9 hours to reach our hometown. It’s tiring but the feelings are thrilling and keep us sane.

I remember the longest length of driving we had was 16 hours. Imagine traveling with SMA, sitting or lying down in the car. Resting at the pit stop. Waking up and sleeping. Yet you still haven’t arrived at the destination. The tiredness of not being able to lie properly.

But the anticipation is what my sister and I loved the most. We were counting the hours to meet our relatives in our hometown, looking forward to rendang, ketupat, and all those Raya dishes.

I usually share these stories with my parents and grandparents. Sharing it with people who miss her too. I use her name in those conversations. Trying to keep a fun memory alive.

I no longer hide my pain

I used to hold my tears in front of my parents. But not anymore. Just because the festive season is so entwined with the idea of gathering with loved ones, there’s no need for me to play down my sadness. I learned that I should embrace and lean into it. If I feel like crying I will just cry. I will spend the day reminiscing about my sister. I will talk about what she liked to do, what she loved to eat, and so on.

Taking some moments to think about the memories, and talking about what we shared around the festive season, allows me to feel the sadness that comes with those memories.

It’s not that I want to revel in my pain, but I think it is much better to acknowledge the loss rather than trying to bury the feelings even deeper.

Expect the unexpected

Being there for each other is crucial but I have to prepare for the possibility of my parents, especially my mom, breaking down.

Knowing my mom, she wouldn’t want to talk about her sadness and resentment. She still cries looking at my late sister's pictures and things. Sometimes she still wouldn’t allow me to talk about it. Others may prefer to celebrate the life of the person and it can be in a lot of different ways. Different people grieve differently.

The conversation could go in unexpected directions. It can turn out to be anger, happiness, and sadness. The only way for me to face it is to mentally prepare myself for surprises. By doing this, I will be easier to roll with the unexpected things to go throughout the day. It can turn out to be messy but it can also turn out to be happy. It depends on how you handle it.

After the first year it won't be as hard

Remember every festive season will not be the same. The first year will be tough. As time passes, you will be able to blend the memory and your love for them into the way that feels right to you.

For now, give yourself an extra hug. Take it bit by bit. It’s not a normal thing, but the more you accept it, the less stressful it will be. Like all things, this time will pass.

Time does heal wounds but we all heal in our own way and time.

I hope anyone reading this can be that ray of hope and that glimmer of sunlight in a grieving person’s story this year.

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