When “First” Holidays Hurt

Yesterday was my “first” Thanksgiving with my wonderful brother-in-law and my brand new niece. We took picture after picture and posted them online. They fit perfectly between many other friends and family who shared their exciting “first” holiday as well. Baby’s “first,” newlywed’s “first,” “first” in a new home…

Honestly, yesterday was full of joy and family and consideration of all the good in my life. But even as I celebrated with new traditions, an aching truth kept surfacing: I’ve never known Thanksgiving without my grandma, and this is the “first” of many holidays of which her absence will be felt.

I’m really coming to understand that holidays are often full of both sorrow and joy, and I’m reminded that I’m not alone in this feeling. I remember the memorial services I’ve attended this year, some I even had the honor of singing at. I’m reminded that for a lot of people, yesterday was a “first” Thanksgiving that hurt, and that these upcoming “first” holidays may be accompanied by the searing pain of loss.

And I remember friends and family who struggle a bit more through each holiday this year because, for them, there is a looming element of “last” as their loved ones face terminal illnesses, threatening their chance of even celebrating the new year together.

Holidays are beautiful, but sometimes they hurt. Yes—we consider our blessings and are thankful for the bounty. Are we not also allowed to recognize when something is out of place, when someone is missing? I think the answer is yes, I just think sometimes we’re afraid to come out and say it. Like somehow we’ll ruin all the good things if we admit we’re missing someone dear to our hearts.

To my friends and family whose holiday season of “firsts” is more painful that pretty—it’s ok to notice. You are not expected to count your blessings and pretend there’s nothing else you long for. You are not required to dance through these holidays with a painted smile out of fear that your honesty will destroy all bliss. We can maintain perspective while admitting wherever we’re at—allowing room for both gratitude and grief.

I want to be part of a community that allows each other that freedom, supporting one another as we nestle into that space between happy and hurting throughout the holidays. Because truthfully, whether it’s your “first” without or “last” holiday with someone you love—or anything in between—I think we benefit from granting ourselves and each other permission to be… wherever and however that is.

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