Loss and the holidays
By Jenn Watt
Published Dec. 11, 2018
I found myself tearing up over a pomegranate the other night. As I wrestled with the fruit, first trying to scoop the red seeds out with a spoon and then giving up and using my fingers, covering the counter, cupboards and toaster oven in juice, I couldn’t help thinking that my mom probably would have liked pomegranates. She probably did – I can’t remember.
And just like that I found myself crying over a pomegranate.
My mother died when I was a teenager and grief has been a shifting experience for me over the last two decades since she first got sick.
There have been times when I wouldn’t have named it grief; it manifested as steamy anger in my late teens and early 20s, followed by feelings of deep emptiness.
Later, it dulled for periods only to flood back unexpectedly.
Where grief appeared most reliably over the years was during the holidays. I remember the first Thanksgiving after my mother’s death we all sat around the table unsure of what to say to one another. Her absence was so conspicuous and our lives felt so empty that we largely avoided eye contact. When my father made a toast to her before we began to eat, I was so upset I could hardly stomach the feast in front of me.
Christmases, birthdays and Thanksgivings thereafter have included a new painful edge. Traditions continue as usual, but they aren’t the same.
In our family, we struggled through without reaching out for help. I don’t think it occurred to any of us that there might be anyone who knew our pain or could help in any real way. It took me many years to find ways through the sadness.
What made things better was talking. Talking to friends, family, therapists – sometimes just acquaintances. It sounds obvious, but when you’re in the middle of it, the obvious is sometimes the furthest thing from your mind.
I also remember simple kindnesses that melted my heart and softened my suffering a little bit. A warm pumpkin pie dropped off by a neighbour or a Christmas card with a favourite memory of my mother.
The holidays are a beautiful time of year full of hope, love and giving. It can also be incredibly hard. In my experience, the best way to make it through is to reach out even when it’s difficult – whether that’s to assist someone in loss or to let your friends and family know you need a little extra help.
And let yourself cry even when it seems ridiculous. As I ate those sweet, juicy pomegranate seeds I imagined I was eating them for my mom. I thought about how she would enjoy the tartness, the unexpected mess in the kitchen, and trying to convince my sugar-loving dad to “just try it once!”
Yes, I think my mom loved pomegranates. I’m sure that she did.