Dealing with loss during the holidays

The holidays can be a painful reminder of who is no longer in your life

Castor Chan
12th December 2022
A few years ago, I lost my aunt. She died near the end of the year, and although I wasn’t young, my memories are blurred as to exactly what date it was. Her passing was something I’ve had to slowly learn to process from then to now, and all my feelings towards it still crop up when the winter days roll around.

My aunt is the first in my close family circle that I remember passing away. I’m incredibly fortunate in that both sets of my grandparents are still here, and my aunts, uncles and cousins are in good health as well. My late aunt had Parkinson’s, and I was aware that she was often ill when I was a child, but I didn’t properly understand what her diagnosis was until my teens. She wasn’t the aunt I was closest to, but she would always give me hugs when we saw each other at family dinners. She died suddenly, after a period where she seemed to be doing better and the two of us finally started to get a little closer. 

My aunt had Parkinson's, and I was aware that she was often ill when I was a child

I remember not knowing how to express my feelings about her death, with a particularly sharp memory about an exchange with one of my best friends. It was December, during my high school’s annual open day, but also my aunt’s funeral. I’d gotten permission to leave the event early, and was heading down to meet my parents with my friend. When she teased me about how lucky I was to get the afternoon, I couldn’t say a word back. There I was, near tears with all black clothes in my bag, quiet not only because she would have felt terrible, but also because I hadn’t processed my aunt’s death myself.

In the following months, I briefly saw a school counsellor because I couldn’t work out why I was numb during the funeral. It took a few sessions to figure out that one of the reasons I wasn’t handling her passing well was due to feelings of guilt. I was beating myself up over not getting closer to her earlier, over not feeling worse at her loss because I didn’t know how to handle grief, and knowing that I was going to see the open gap at the dinner table and be reminded of it all over again.

It took a few sessions to figure out that one of the reasons I wasn't handling her passing well was due to feelings of guilt

It will be four years now since I’ve gotten one of those hugs, and I hate that my relationship with loss means I now grip onto people because I don’t want to grieve again. I hate that it took the death of a loved one to make me truly understand how important cherishing your time with your family is. I hate that winter resets the rollercoaster year after year. But I’ve forgiven myself because I know that I was trying to do better in my relationship with my aunt leading up to her passing, and that is all we can do sometimes. I still feel that tiny pinprick of guilt often, and the holidays are only a reminder of that gap in my family, but I focus on my loved ones and keep myself busy, so the winter passes a little easier every year.

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