FOR IMMIGRANTS WHO EXPERIENCE A SENSE OF LOSS DURING THE HOLIDAYS
The Christmas of 1992 was my last Christmas in Trinidad. There was a nice breeze passing through the gallery (which is what we call our front porch). My cousins, sister, and I were all running around, excited, while my elders were doing their “old talk” thing, swapping stories and recalling memories of people, places, and things. And there was parang music trilling in the background. And food. Of course, food. Dahl, curry, geera pork, stew chicken, callaloo, yams, plantains. I was that child that would peek through the doorway beads to see if they needed someone to taste what was being prepared, you know, just to check. And then I remember my grandfather creating his own rhythm and he began singing “we going to bake a ham.” And all the kids joined him, singing loudly and laughing. I think about that Christmas a lot. I often wonder if I made it up.
The Christmas of 1993 - I remember nothing. Maybe if someone reminded me of something, it would bring on a memory or two. But sitting here, trying my best, I can’t remember. Outside of the fact that it was cold and we weren’t in Trinidad anymore.
Holidays, regardless of the ones we celebrate, can bring on a serious sense of nostalgia. But they can also bring on a serious sense of loss. Complicated loss. During the holiday season, there is happiness and abundance and joy to go around, and yet, there is a sense of loneliness, sadness, and even anger and frustration that can overtake you.
Many of us talk about loss as meaning someone we care about passing on from this life. And as immigrants, especially in the state of undocumentedness, we too experience losing loved ones, the separation, and the anguish of the unfinished goodbye.
But we also experience loss in other ways -
The loss of home and trying to figure out where that is now;
The loss of understanding and of what we knew, and having to learn differently;
The loss of time, hours to years passing, with our visions holding in place while everyone grows old and moves on;
The loss and change in identity and attempts to either hold on as tightly as possible to it or to mask it for survival;
The loss of practices and traditions, because of the change in cultural and societal norms or because you forgot and there isn’t anyone who can share the knowledge with you;
The loss of connection and groundedness, being and feeling separated, especially as we have been taught that our ability to take up space, to exist, to be is related to a sheet of paper.
And with loss comes grief. The emptiness of grief. It’s complicated. And during the holidays, in all the festivities, these emotions rear up. And that’s okay.
For me, no Christmas matches 1992. But during the holidays, I do my best to recreate and generate connections and to cope with loss -
In complete sentences, I think, envision, and write down who, what, where I am thankful for. I also remind myself of how far I have come.
I do my best to engage in social events with others to share in communal joy despite the feelings of loss and grief.
I use video call apps to talk face to face with my mother and grandparents and show off my limited cooking and decorating skills, and I scratch phone cards to call my granny who doesn’t text.
I welcome friends for a meal and space to sit and hang and eat food that reminds us of “home.”
I intentionally remember family and friends who have passed on, and talk to them, even updating them if I feel they may have missed something.
I “old talk” so well, I would make my grandparents proud.
I light diyas on Diwali and welcome blessings.
I let myself cry and sit alone to gather my thoughts, because I do miss people, I do miss places, and I do miss things - even if it’s just parts of them.
I go back and read about Caribbean folklore and get excited when I recognize Creole and patois and remember who the stories are about.
I call and check in on people, see how they’re doing, what they’re up to.
I lean on people to check me and to remind me of who I am.
And each time I learn of a new way, a new option to recreate and generate and cope, I try it out, and see if it works for me.
To you reading this -
I want you to know that your sense of loss is valid. And especially in this climate where xenophobia, racism, and hatred are spewed openly and uncensored, dealing with loss is ten-fold, because nothing seems grounded in humanity.
I want you to know that it is possible to find joy and still feel the hurt of what is gone.
I want you to know that you’re not alone in thinking the holiday season is hard. It is. For many people.
Maybe, like me, in your current state, there is no celebration that could even compare to the one from your past. But it is my hope that you can find the ways that will generate and recreate joyous occasions, connection, support, and groundedness that works best for you.
- Written by Gabrielle Jackson