If you’ve experienced the loss of a close loved one, the holidays can be difficult to navigate. Old traditions and memories flood our hearts and minds and remind us of the gaping hole left by death.
My sister Amanda unexpectedly passed away in May 2020 at just 40 years old. We spent nearly every Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday together regardless of where we lived. And her birthday is today, November 18th, so November is an extra hard month for me, as maybe it is for you too.
I’m not an expert on grief, but here are 5 things that have helped me cope and allow me to continue connecting with Amanda.
1. Relive memories with friends and family
I've found there is no greater gift than reliving memories of Amanda with others. I love seeing photos of her I've never seen and hearing stories I've never heard. She had some really beautiful friendships in her lifetime from childhood friends to sorority sisters to people who were just always there. After Amanda passed away, I heard from so many people with stories they were eager to share, and I still get messages with a sweet memory or photo and it always makes me smile (or laugh!).
I love being asked about her by people who didn't have a chance to meet her. One of the most touching cards I received after Amanda passed was from a friend who had done some research to get to know Amanda’s talent as a DJ and a loving mother. It flooded me with so many memories that I wrote a six-page letter in response. And I still have friends who ask me about her or check out her social media and tell me how much they would’ve loved her... it makes me feel like somehow Amanda is still making new friends through me.
2. Write them a letter
When someone dies abruptly, it feels like getting the wind knocked out of you because you didn’t get to say goodbye and you didn’t get to say all the things you would’ve said if only you’d known their life would be cut short.
Two months after Amanda died, I wrote her a letter. There were things about the way she died and things she wrote in her journal a few months before she died that haunted me. So I responded to those things which made me feel a wave of relief after. And through writing that letter, I learned that our relationship didn’t have to end with her death. Her spirit lives on through me, through my parents, and through her son. I carry her heart in my heart, I pull from her strength, and she continues to inspire me every single day. She might be gone physically, but I can still connect with her spiritually by writing a letter or talking to her.
3. Go places or do things that remind you of them
My sister lived outside of New York City for more than a decade and I visited her there many times, making countless memories. When I had the opportunity to travel back to NYC this year, I made sure to make a stop at one of her favorite rooftop bars. And one of her best friends met up with me there which just made me feel like she was also there with us somehow.
Even though Amanda hated getting older, she loved her birthday. We’ve both always celebrated our entire birthday month without any shame. I’m so glad I got to spend Amanda’s 40th birthday with her in NYC in 2019 and plan to continue toasting her each and every year.
Amanda was a DJ (DJ Amanda Blaze) and every time I would go out with her, she would always play a particular song for me. The longer she kept it up, the funnier it would get each time she played it. It’s an old song, but every time I hear it, I’m sure to crank it all the way up and dance. I can feel her near me and just picture us laughing and dancing together.
One of my favorite holiday traditions with Amanda was just snuggling under blankets on the couch watching SVU marathons or cheesy Hallmark movies all day long. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble keeping that tradition going—her son and I are also champions of movie marathons.
Continuing to go places or do things that remind me of her only helps me feel closer to her. I hope it does the same for you.
4. Do something to honor their memory
Let me preface this suggestion by saying that you do not need to do something in memory of a lost loved one, especially if it overwhelms you. I dread being asked what I’m going to do for Amanda’s birthday or the anniversary of her death because it’s too much pressure. But maybe you will feel inspired to do something on a random day of the year shortly after their death or many years later—like spread their ashes, get a tattoo, donate to a non-profit in their memory, plant a garden, paint a pretty picture, or whatever feels right to you.
Because I find writing so cathartic, I decided to write a poem that would not only make me think of Amanda but would also comfort me when I was missing her the most. Here are the words of the poem which I hope will comfort you too.
She is in the rustling of the willow trees
and the blossoming of the wildflowers.
She is in the melody of the bird song
and the flare of the firefly.
She is in the warmth of the sunshine
and the glow of the moonbeams.
She is in the strength of the riptide
and the grit of the sand.
She is in the beat of your heart
and the heat of your argument.
She is in the joy of your laughter
and the beauty of your reflection.
She is in you.
I recently printed a large version of the poem and have it displayed above my bed, always reminding me of her and keeping her close. You can purchase a print of my poem in my shop: She is in you poem.
5. Dream about them
After Amanda died, one of my friends who also lost a sibling reached out. She said something that has stuck with me, “I have so many dreams of my brother where we do fun stuff together. Not memories, but of what it would be like if he was still here. It’s almost as if we’re creating new memories together. I hope you get to experience that too.”
I do have dreams of Amanda sometimes, and it has been such a blessing because I get to see her and hear her contagious laughter again. If you don’t have vivid dreams or can’t remember them, you could daydream about your loved one. Picture what you might do together, where you might go, how they would react or respond to one of your dilemmas. They are still there, ready to make new memories with you.
Death ends a life, not a relationship (Morrie Schwarz)
I hope this list of ways to connect to a deceased loved one helps you. If you're experiencing your own sorrow, old or new, please know that you're not alone and I'm thinking of you.
I’d love to hear if you have other ways of coping with death. Comment below or send me a message on social media @alisonrosevintage.
Social media: @alisonrosevintage