Mental Health

On Christmas, Grieving, and Growing Up

This post was originally posted on my Tumblr in December 2015.

ge·zel·lig·heid: an untranslatable Dutch word meaning something that’s a combination of coziness, warmth, good atmosphere, and an intimate time with friends and/or family.

The winter months: for some people it’s a time of family, gezelligheid, and gifts. For me, the period from November 29 (my brother’s birthday) to New Year’s Day, is a time of grieving.

You see, my brother passed away on December 27th, the day after Boxing Day. That year (2008), we didn’t have a Christmas tree, because we were too busy with hospital visits to even think about something as trivial as Christmas. He was far too sick at that point. But I wish we’d been able to celebrate it in a way. Our last one. It wouldn’t be about gifts at all, it would be about tabletop games and re-watching Harry Potter movies and enjoying each other’s company. I still feel like I didn’t get to spend enough time with him in those last 5 months, but I guess everyone feels that way when someone dies too young.

I love Christmas. I love the atmosphere, I love giving gifts, I love the corny decorations and the terrible Christmas songs on the radio. Ever since Pieter died, I’ve been trying to get my parents back into celebrating it by making a big deal out of decorating and buying each other one meaningful present each. My mom still has a hard time celebrating anything this time of the year — completely understandable, of course — and I don’t think my dad has ever really been into it. But still, I try.

Every year in December, we celebrate Sinterklaas and Christmas as one combined event, with my dad’s side of the family. Over time, we developed some traditions, as you do. Every year, we watched the same horrible Harry Potter voice-over video, played hide-and-seek, tried to keep the fire in the fireplace on, fought to sit on grandpa’s comfortable spinny chair, climbed the same tree in the forest near our grandparents’ house, and ate a chocolate from the Christmas tree as we were leaving.

Everything has been different since Pieter got sick. During his last Sinterkerst, we watched some funny internet videos (yes, including that Harry Potter one), he worked on keeping the fire lit with our cousin, but he couldn’t join in on our half-assed game of hide-and-seek, and he couldn’t climb the tree.



My brother was my childhood. Him being taken from me meant my childhood being taken from me, but it happened when I’d just turned 13 and I was going to have to grow up anyway. I imagine it’s hard to let go of childhood and move onto high school life for everyone, but this made it twice as hard.

The years after, I sort of forced the traditions on my cousins, because I so badly didn’t want to lose my childhood so quickly. We were all getting older, and growing bigger, so playing hide-and-seek in every nook and cranny of my grandparents’ house was getting harder every year. But I kept going, until one year, I was starting to feel okay about letting go.



This year, we celebrated at my aunt and uncle’s house, and it was refreshing to be in a different place — one I don’t have as many memories attached to. It’s still hard to see my cousins with their siblings, and this year, their boyfriends and girlfriend as well. They don’t have just one buddy, but two. But, over the past year, I’ve been able to slowly let go of the past — the old traditions — and embrace the future. It’s time for new traditions and new memories to be made.

This is for those of you who also have a difficult time during the holidays, for whatever reason. I know how you feel. You’re not alone. Happy holidays.





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