In Cheryl Sandberg’s recent memoir, Option B, she asks what we have “taken back” since experiencing a life-altering loss.
I’m reading Option B as a mini book club of sorts with my best friend. We read a chapter each week and then email each other our thoughts and feelings.
We all have a Plan A we are dreaming and working towards. But what happens when Plan A doesn’t come to fruition? Or hell, if you are like me and Plan A has been beaten down so many times it’s unrecognizable, and then just when I thought it was mending- it gets hit by a bus. What happens when Plan A isn’t an option anymore? Then it is time for Plan B, which many of us never thought we’d need. This book is a wonderful tool for healing after any devastating loss and helps us learn how to forgive ourselves as well as others.
Cheryl Sandberg wrote,“ ‘We take it back’ became our mantra. Rather than give up the things that reminded us of Dave, we embraced them and made them an ongoing part of our lives.”
When she asked what have we taken back, I didn’t know the answer. What had I taken back? My happiness? Yes. But more specifically as to activities or traditions associated with loved ones- I couldn’t clearly answer that -and it surprised me.
After the initial heat of grief subsided to more of a sting, the concept of moving on without her was a difficult one. I knew I had to keep moving forward. Grief was a slippery slope, waiting for me to fall backwards into the open arms of depression, sadness or longing. But to allow myself to move forward doing the same things my mother loved to do, or continue the traditions that she began and carried out with such enthusiasm seemed ludicrous.
With practice, some perseverance and a few tears, I did learn to carry on and find joy again. Though trying to find happiness in the holiday traditions she loved so much, was something that fell by the wayside. Don’t get me wrong– I put my heart into trying them. But the crack in my heart, caused by her absence, reminded me they would never be the same. Some holidays are better than others; some years I feel that crack pulsating, as if I’m one tear away from that crack splintering through my whole heart.
“Allowing ourselves to be happy- accepting that it is okay to push through the guilt and seek joy-is the triumph over permanence. Having fun is a form of self-compassion; just as we need to be kind to ourselves by enjoying life when we can. Tragedy breaks down your door and takes you prisoner. To escape takes effort and energy. Seeking joy after facing adversity is taking back what was stolen from you. As U2 lead singer Bono has said, ‘ Joy is the ultimate act of defiance.’” ~ Cheryl Sandberg
One of our fondest Christmas traditions with my mother was leaving the Friday after Thanksgiving for a weekend retreat cabin-style in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina. The trip was coordinated specifically to find and cut down our perfect Christmas tree. Decked out in Santa hats or reindeer antlers, a group of us would sing Christmas carols, holiday shop in Boone and watch Blowing Rock’s Christmas parade. Then we would travel to the same family-run tree farm, and cut down our “Griswald” evergreen for that year.
The year my mother passed was the last time we went to Boone. We made an effort at normalcy, but instead of our usual festivities, we went snow tubing and hiking Linville Falls instead. To take the same festive path she took us on was too difficult.
Fast forward, eight years later, my husband tells me he found a Christmas tree farm in the mountains where we live now, about an hour away. He said he would enjoy taking me, if I felt like going. That old familiar Christmas glow brightened when I agreed to go for a Sunday drive and check it out. To my surprise, it was better than any others we had visited. Expansive rolling hills, springing with evergreens as far as the eye could see. They accented the holiday event with an elf village, an outdoor fireplace to make smores and a horse drawn carriage ride.
I danced around, in my festive candy cane head flair, among the tall trees smelling strongly of Christmases past. Then grief had to crash my holiday party. She would love this place, I thought. I wish she could be with us . She began this whole tradition and should be here in her Santa hat with hot cocoa in hand. Maybe she is here, maybe she can see it?
Tears formed in the corners of my eyes, but they never fell. I kicked grief to the curb telling it, it was not ruining this happy moment. I was taking this back. No longer would I fear enjoying this tradition anymore. I’m celebrating her when I celebrate this season and all our familiar family festivities .
And we had a great time. I imagined her being proud of us getting back to the way we were( and telling me to get a bigger tree!). I’m glad my husband found this farm and hope one day it can be a tradition I can hand down to my own family one day.
“ When we look for joy, we often focus on the big moments. But happiness is the frequency of positive experiences, not the intensity.” Cheryl Sandberg