Christmas Season is one of my most favorite times of the year. I’ve loved it ever since I was a young child and I think I might love it even more now that I have a family of my own.
I love sitting quietly in my living room at night after a long day with no light except the glow from our Butterfly Christmas tree. I love the excitement of my children counting down each day until Christmas morning. I love the time spent with family. And more than anything I love the spirit of giving and loving on others that exists this time of year.
But there’s also another underlying reality of this season. The reality that despite the beauty that exists so many of us are hurting deeply, and far from cheery.
That reality exists for me too. I had one Christmas with my daughter. ONE. Her first and her last before cancer stole her from me at 20 months old.
The year that she died, she passed at the end of October, and by the time Christmas rolled around her loss was still so incredibly fresh. I had no strength but I was also desperate to make the holidays amazing for Olivia’s twin brother.
So I got up, I slapped on a fake smile, I decorated, made a big Christmas breakfast, and seriously overcompensated by giving our son about a million toys.
I wore that fake smile like a badge of honor, willing myself to just be okay. But I wasn’t okay. And sometimes, even more than 5 years later, I’m still not okay.
But that is okay too.
Believe it or not, it is actually more than okay to not be okay sometimes.
That was a lesson I had to learn the hard way when I finally began to process through the loss of my daughter and other life circumstances that led to my tremendous grief.
It actually took me until I was very near a mental breakdown before I began to bask in the freedom of that knowledge.
The holidays can be really hard. This is especially true if you’ve lost a treasured loved one or are reeling from some other hurt that exists in your life and in your heart.
And rather than beating yourself up because you are lacking some Christmas cheer, take some time and acknowledge what you are feeling and the why behind it. Cry if you need to, but let it out! When you don’t and you hold onto something and bury it deep inside is when you finally reach a point of explosion. And those explosions can be much harder to come back from.
When I feel my grief coming I have learned to stop and spend some time with it. I do some soul searching and understand where the sadness is coming from. And then I let it out. I pray. I journal. I cry. I share my feelings with some treasured people, and I just rest.
And you know what? Nine times out of 10 I wake up much stronger and less consumed by grief by the very next day. I’ve managed my grief instead of letting it handle me.
So friends, if you are sad this Christmas. If you are missing someone or having a hard time wrapping your head around a circumstance in your life, just go ahead and feel it. Explore the feelings you are feeling and then learn what it will personally take for you to get your mind back to a happier space.
It isn’t an easy thing to do at first. But each time you decide to take your grief by the horns and manage it up front, it gets easier, and your grief will become less consuming!
I also take the time to try and remind myself about the positive things I have in my life. Remembering what brings me joy helps me bring my mind to a more positive space.
Yes, I lost my daughter. And yes, right now I have stressors coming at me from just about every direction. But I serve a God who loves me and He has brought me through much worse. So I am going to lift my eyes, count my blessings, and work on getting a real smile on my face. And you my friend, can do the same, even if it feels impossible right now.
Katie Caldwell-Burchett is the CEO/Founder of the Olivia Caldwell Foundation, which is a nonprofit she founded in memory of her daughter, Olivia, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. To date the foundation has given $325,000 to pediatric cancer research in just five years. You can learn more about Katie, Olivia’s story and the foundation by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org.