A-List: Coping with the loss of a loved one on Christmas

Photo remembering Missy Livingston - June 24, 1990 - Dec 19, 2009 | Photo created by Ali Hill, St George News

OPINION – On December 19, 2009, I received a phone call from my mother.

“Are you sitting down?”

In that instant, I knew something terrible had happened. But nothing could prepare me for what she was about to say next.

“Missy has passed away.”

She proceeded to talk, but I only heard sounds slowly fading away as the phone fell through my paralyzed fingertips.

My entire body went into a state of inconceivable misery. I couldn’t manage to utter a single sentence out loud without stumbling over every word. I felt as though I was desperately gasping for air with every breath. My eyes rapidly filled up with tears that relentlessly streamed down my pale cheeks.

My hands were trembling uncontrollably and my legs were suddenly incapable of supporting the rest of my body. Every muscle I had was begging me to somehow grasp what was already out of reach. The only thought running through my harrowing mind was “I am never going to be OK.”

Missy had been my best friend for the last 10 years. She was only 19 years old the day time tragically and unexpectedly took her too far away.

Christmas was in six days. The most wonderful time of the year instantly lost its sparkle. I felt as though I was merely existing in a black and white world.

I became numb. I was either awake or asleep, but couldn’t tell the difference between the two. I lost track of time entirely.

Everyone around me handled the situation differently. Some tried to cheer me up, others tried to offer advice. Many tried to hurry me through my grief, and the rest avoided me altogether. What was I supposed to do?

I googled “how to deal with the death of your best friend.” Surprisingly, several articles popped up that all had 10-step plans. I read every word.

I was desperate. The piercing pain was too much to handle. I needed help, but nothing could help me. I searched for answers but couldn’t find any.

I dreaded waking up on Christmas morning. How could I celebrate life when my best friend died less than a week before? Christmas would undoubtedly be the hardest day yet.

Sure enough, I instinctively greeted the day feeling empty and afraid. Normally, I would allow these emotions to shut me down. I’d go back to bed and try to escape this unfamiliar reality. But today I didn’t want to run away. Today I wanted to fight back with my eyes wide open.

So I unwrapped presents. I talked to extended family members without my voice shaking. I found myself laughing again. For a moment, I felt guilty. I felt as though I should be out of sight, sobbing in my bedroom. But a part of me felt something else for the first time: hope.

Hope that maybe life wouldn’t always be this hard. Hope that I might be able to make it through a day without completely breaking down. Hope that somehow I could in fact, survive the unthinkable.

This Christmas marks the fifth year without brilliant blue-eyed Missy. I can’t say it gets easier; I really just miss her more. However, I have learned how to deal with the pain – without the help of Wikipedia.

My life never went “back to normal,” because without Missy, things would never be the same. But, I learned how to make a new normal. And with every passing day, I got a little more used to that normal. I even learned to love that normal.

There are still days that sting – the kind of days when I wake up and am surprised that the sky is still blue. But, no day has been as painful as the moment I lost her. I have never experienced that combination of unbearable emotions that I once thought I would never be able to survive.

My world doesn’t shine as bright as it once did, but it still shines. And with every glorious sunset, I feel as though heaven isn’t so far away. I just have to remember to look up.

I wish I could provide you with an exemplary 10-step plan for getting over loss, but there isn’t one. A part of my heart broke that day, and it’s never been the same since. And it never will be.

However, I can tell you that broken hearts still beat. You just have to learn how to live with the inevitable ache that comes and goes – but never fully goes away.

I can also tell you that even shattered hearts can still love and be loved. It’s almost as though they were mercifully built to be beautifully broken.

Everything may not be OK today, tomorrow, or five years from now – but one day it will be. I never thought I’d be able to say “I’m okay today.” But I can. And most days, I mean it.

If you woke up missing someone terribly today, do whatever it is you need to do to feel their absence.

Cry. Miss the heck out of them. Remember them. Cry some more. Think of them and smile. Laugh if you can. Scream if you must. Break down. Repeat if necessary.

You’ll likely begin to wonder if you’ll even make it through. But, somehow…you do.

It may never be easy, but once you discover how much your fragile heart can handle – life becomes possible again. Christmas becomes bearable; even though you never stop wishing they were here.

Keep old traditions. Make new ones.

Turn on their favorite Christmas song and listen to hear them sing it slightly out of tune. Pour a glass of egg nog for them and then remember how much they hated egg nog and really loved hot chocolate. And then go make the best hot chocolate you’ve ever tasted.

Celebrate them by celebrating today.

We got this.

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  • Betty December 25, 2014 at 7:48 am

    The blessings and bruises we experience must be understood as part of the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. We may not understand why a person was taken from us in this life, but by faith we can have the assurance that all life experiences work together to make us more like Jesus Christ.

    While you may be bruised, I pray you lean into God’s word and His promise that while you walk through this valley; He is with you.

    • Evil twins mommy December 25, 2014 at 10:55 am

      I was going to make a comment but you have done that for me. Well said. It is as it is

  • Joanna December 25, 2014 at 9:37 am

    Wow that was moving. This is going to really help somebody out there. Thanks Ali, Merry Christmas!

  • arts and letters December 25, 2014 at 9:48 am

    I have no religious affiliation nor do I want one. I am a spiritual person who believes in goodness no matter how its packaged. I am also a writer and an artist. I want to thank you, Ali, for this beautiful essay about loss and love. You are a strong person who has given us all a bit of that strength today, a wonderful gift. Thank you for not making what you had to say and experienced about God or a church, but about your own humanity and an understanding beyond your years about “keeping on.” I’ll keep this essay for a long time. Sending love.

  • laytonian December 25, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Remember that they truly “died” and that they did not merely “pass away”. Whatever reason for the death, there is a lesson to be learned.

    Sharing the lesson might prevent such sadness in others’ lives.

  • Uncle Lenny December 25, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    My father died Christmas Day, 2002 . I am the oldest of his 7 children, and I can tell you that some traditions will never be the same. Life, and death, changed us.

  • Layne Johnson December 26, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I just lost my best friend 3 weeks ago in an accidental drowning in Kona, Hawaii. Your insight has empowered me to know I will process this tragedy and will survive. I cry without notice and cuss the damn sea turtles Mike loved to swim with. My disbelief of his loss is just now coming into focus. Thank you for the insight of your personal experience. It helps. I now know I can post comments to his Facebook and not feel stupid. 🙂

  • Herd December 26, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    I find it peculiar that people who have no time to visit someone in life will show up for that person’s funeral and cry. Why bother after that person is dead if it was too much of a bother while that person was living?

    • ladybugavenger December 26, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      That’s what my mom told me, well kinda, she said I don’t want a funeral, love me while I’m alive

  • Patrice Hunt December 28, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Loved your article, Ali!!
    Thanks for putting into words feelings that are very hard to express and even harder to articulate. You did so beautifully!!

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