Enjoying the Holidays in a Different Way … 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.

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 reinvesting 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 for them:

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 brother brought into your life by enjoying this holiday in a new and different way!

Heidi Horsley

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Comments (5)

  • Heidi, thank you so much for remembering siblings in this beautiful piece, complete with concrete suggestions. As you point out, siblings share so many memories from the holidays, such an intense and emotional time for many families. Creating a “new holiday normal” has helped our family so much, particularly in recent years. We have new insights and take new risks each December, finding light in the darkness.

  • Thanks so much. Although it made me cry to think that this Christmas will not include a call to my brother and his family, I will begin my search to create the new normal, a life without him. You have given me ideas to help me begin to allow my heart to heal. It has only been a little over 2 months but knowing that he would want me to be happy guides me in a way that nothing else can. I do feel the guilt for feeling happy, but my brother, who was a professional gospel singer for over 30 years had dedicated his life since he was 16 in a way that most people can’t begin to understand. I have peace in this knowledge and will try to honor him in the way I know he would want me to. Your story just helped give me the guidance I needed to accomplish this difficult task at a difficult time of year for a grieving heart. Thanks again.

  • My younger brother just died at 75 last night. It was not expect . Today was the 8th year of my husband death. This has been a bad time for me. My brother funeral will be on 11th the same date of my husbands. I pray I can get though the day.

  • It has been over five years since my grandson Jared died at 16, and I learned anew how much his younger brother, now 17 but 12 when the brother he idolized died so suddenly (his mom’s car fell on him while he was changing the oil). Sean did not want to come to my home for Thanksgiving, saying “Grandma, it’s just not the same without Jared. I just don’t want to be there.” I think your words and suggestions may really help this young man as Christmas approaches. Thank you.

  • My brother, John died January 29th of 2016. He spent the Christmas of 2015 with my children and I. We had an awesome Christmas and even better, John came back to our home the second week of January to spend eleven days. John was a talented artist, a mechanic, a builder, a wealth of knowledge, a great son, an only and amazing brother, a special uncle and a heroin addict. John cleaned up with my help and things begin to start looking up for him. They took him to court and then to a doctor’s appointment 3 days before he died.I begged him to stay with me come back to my house after his appointments but he chose to go back to his apartment with the memories in the negative energy would flood his being. He decided to pick up again and on January 29th I received a phone call at approximately 11:30 those five words will haunt me until the day I die, “I’m sorry for your loss.” John was my only sibling we did everything together as kids and we’re close as adults too.he was my son Jesse’s favorite person and vice versa. He taught my daughter Juleah how to tie her shoes, something she’ll never forget. He coined the nickname “beefy” for my son Jake who was such a little peanut. He once put him inside of a reusable shopping bag and carried him around the house. It is a memory that none of us will ever forget ,especially Jake.

    I will forever miss my brother, it will ever feel robbed of having nieces or nephews two daunt over, I will forever wonder what we would have looked like or what he would have looked like at 40, 50, 60, 70… And I will always to everything in my power to keep his memory alive. 33 for life forever and always missed JP

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