Dealing with unpredictable grief during the holidays
Editor’s Note: Steve M. Grant of Simpsonville, SC lost both of his sons to drug overdoses before either reached the age of 25. In 2012, Grant founded The Chris and Kelly’s HOPE Foundation, based in Greenville, SC, to financially assist organizations and programs whose purpose is to help adolescents and young adults who are struggling with substance abuse, addiction and depression. Grant’s new book, Don’t Forget Me, offers hope and encouragement for other parents. It is due to be released on February 4, 2020. The following article was contributed to help those who may be dealing with grief during the holidays.
I am intimately familiar with grief. Both of my sons died before the age of 25. They were my only children, and I miss them every day. Grief can be especially difficult during the holidays, and it is often difficult to predict when grief will overcome us.
Recently, my wife, Cathy, and I were visiting my Dad. While we were sorting through antique Christmas decorations, floods of memories from Christmases past had me feeling a bit melancholy. Since I was also experiencing some back pain, I went into the living room to watch the Furman football game with Dad. Cathy continued to go through the closets and made piles for “keep” and “donate.” After a while, she came out with a blanket to get help folding it and to ask what pile to put it in. When I looked up and saw the blanket in her hands, my heart skipped a beat, and a stream of memories filled my consciousness. Cathy looked at me with a puzzled look; she did not know the history or the significance the blanket held for me. It had been my youngest son, Kelly’s blanket. It was a Mickey Mouse blanket from Disney World that he’d had most of his life. He kept the blanket even into adulthood. I found it after his death when I was cleaning out his apartment and thought about giving it away then. It still smelled like Kelly. My mother was with me at the time, and said, “Have you lost your mind?” She took it home, washed it, and kept it; all these years, even after her passing, it had remained in her closet.
We put the blanket in a bag filled with items to donate in the back seat of my car. When I arrived at Goodwill, I took the blanket out of the bag and put it on the front seat. I handed the precious blanket to the attendant who tossed it nonchalantly into a blue basket as if it had very little value. I experienced a deep sadness as I watched and thought, he just threw it in there. When I returned to my car, an assistant tapped on the window and said, “Don’t you want a receipt?” I replied with tears in my eyes, “Not enough money in the world for that tax receipt.” Her face paled as she sensed my grief. I cried as I drove to meet Cathy for dinner at Moe’s. I bumped into one of my customers in the parking lot, and he asked me if I was alright. I indicated that I was fine. We went back to Goodwill three different times to try to retrieve it, but we were not successful in our attempts to recover the beloved blanket.
Decluttering has become a popular topic with several books on the subject and the popular television show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. When we lose a loved one, it is normal to want to hold on to their belongings forever, but we know that won’t be possible for most of us. For me, being around those that love and support me helped make the process less overwhelming and also helped in my healing.
As we begin the process of recovery from profound grief, we regain our ability to connect with other human beings. It is important to remember that we are literally, physiologically created for connection. Our limbic systems, mirror neurons, and the ability to learn socially are all wired to help us connect. As we begin to heal, we must do so in a social environment. We need other people in our lives. For those of us in recovery, we need other recovering people in our lives as well, not just for the advice and wisdom that they can share but also because of the profound understanding they bring. Their understanding can provide a profound sense of belonging, and their presence can help provide us with more stable limbic systems that we can attune to help us better regulate our own.
There may be times when you do need some time to yourself, but recovery from grief does not happen in isolation. As I have shared my story of the loss of my sons to accidental overdose in recent years, I have had countless others come up to me and share their pain with me as well. Being vulnerable about my loss and my grief opens the doorway for a healing connection.
During the holiday seasons and throughout the year, please remember that you are not alone. In my book, Don’t Forget Me, I share that “once we find our tribe that we can be open, vulnerable, and accepted with, our burdens don’t disappear, but they are diminished. A burden shared is a burden divided. We are not alone, and we can help to bear one another’s loads.” There is HOPE.
About the Author
Steve M. Grant was born in New York City and raised in Paramus, NJ where he was the captain of both the baseball and basketball teams and played All-Conference Baseball his junior and senior years. After graduation, he attended Furman University on a partial baseball scholarship and served as baseball captain his junior and senior years. After college, he started the Catholic High School Baseball Team at St. Joseph’s High in 1994 and volunteered as head coach there for 12 years.
In March of 2012, Grant founded the Chris and Kelly’s HOPE Foundation and serves as its Executive Director. He has written a book about the loss of his two sons to accidental overdose and his journey from grief to gratitude. It is titled Don’t Forget Me and will publish in February 2020.