Surviving the Holidays…

Author: Heidi Horsley

Without My Brother

I was shocked and stunned when I received the news that my brother Scott had died in a car accident. I thought my brother was going to be in my life forever. We grew up together, experienced a shared history, and knew things about each other that no one else will ever know. I always assumed we’d raise kids together, grow old together, and share many more holidays together. 

holiday decor

So how did I not only survive the holidays but eventually learn how to enjoy them again without my brother? It was a rocky, painful journey, with pain that hit like waves, sometimes when I least expected it. The holidays brought back so many memories; every song, smell, and tradition was bittersweet.

Initially, joy made me feel guilty. I worried that if I let go of the pain, I would be letting go of my brother’s memory. It felt disloyal to experience positive feelings when I missed my brother so much. Well-meaning friends told me that my brother would want me to have a happy holiday, and while I knew this on an intellectual level, my heart wasn’t ready to accept it yet.

There were some relatives who tried to recreate a typical Christmas, with family traditions, as if my brother had never died. Not acknowledging my brother was the worst thing anyone could do. The pretense was that everything needed to return back to normal. However, things in my life were forever changed and I needed to figure out how to create a new holiday “normal.” For me, this meant finding a way to honor the memory of my brother while at the same time investing in my new life. 

Here are some of the things that have helped me during the holidays. I hope they will help you as well. However, everybody who is grieving must decide what works best.

Holiday Survival Tips 

  • Plan in advance how you are going to spend the holidays and be able to say no if you need to.
  • Take a break from holiday traditions that are too painful – create new traditions.
  • Connect with others.
  • Share stories of past holidays and spend time reflecting back. Keep your loved one’s memory alive for those who were too young to remember the person.
  • Include memories of your loved one in your celebration (e.g., light a candle, display pictures, make a toast in honor of the person).

My brother played many roles during the holidays. I can fill some of these roles but there are many more that will never be filled, and I fill those with all the memories that he left behind. Although we are poorer for having lost our loved ones, we are richer for having known them. I hope you will be able to celebrate the happiness, laughter, and memories that your sibling brought into your life by enjoying this holiday in a new and different way!   

By Heidi Horsley, PsyD, LMSW, MS: Dr. Heidi Horsley is a licensed psychologist and social worker, and is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Open to Hope Foundation. She is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University and in private practice in Manhattan. An internationally known grief expert, author, and bereaved sibling, Heidi co-hosts the syndicated internet radio show, Open to Hope. She serves on the National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends and on the Advisory Board for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) of military loss.