I lost my dad last summer, which made me a card-carrying member of the Grief Club. It’s not a club I wanted to join, but now that I’m here I’m learning firsthand how strong neighborhood connections help lighten grief load, especially this time of year. As I find myself approaching a second round of holidays without my dad, I’m reminded of how much I dreaded my first Christmas without him. So many people told me that the “year of firsts” is the hardest part of grief: nothing feels right or good because someone you love is missing. There is no way around it; the big things and the little things just feel so sad.
Part of my dread, I think, was the worry that people would forget about how hard the season would be for me. In the early weeks of grief, people tend to be very present: cards, texts, flowers, lasagnas, and casseroles abound. But these check-ins and meals fade as the weeks pass, and I found in my experience the weight of my grief hit a full three months after I said goodbye.
Looking back, I realize there was no reason to worry. In the weeks leading to Christmas, I was bombarded in the best way possible by neighbors who chose a faithful presence in my life. John and Betsy FaceTimed me every week throughout the holidays, and they were sure to tell me they were holding me close throughout the season. Cara and her son delivered cookies to my doorstep.
The women in the Cherokee Plant Club were so good about giving me space to process my loss during our outdoor COVID brunches and firepits. Dan and Bryan invited me to join them at neighborhood events even though they knew I probably wouldn’t go. Lauren delivered Fattoush from The Vine, which has become our shared comfort meal. She also sat with me through many teary moments. Dolores stopped by my house to tell me jokes each time she walked up to the Save A Lot on the corner.
The response was so tangible; it made my mom marvel. We had a tender moment in my kitchen while making our traditional Swedish meatballs, a recipe passed down from my paternal gramma. My mom quietly asked, “Do your friends check in on you like this all the time?” Yes, I told her, they really do. I could see the relief on her face, knowing that her firstborn was so well loved in a neighborhood three states from her own.
As we enter the holiday season, I encourage you to take stock of the people in your neighborhood who have experienced loss this year. Take a moment and think of tangible ways you can offer love and support during what will surely be a difficult time of the year. Perhaps it’s a homecooked meal, a simple bouquet of flowers, or even a thoughtful text. It doesn’t need to be elaborate; it need only be authentic. Mention their loss specifically: articulate that you see their grief and that you’re there to support them however you can. In doing so, you are building a network of trust and connection in your neighborhood. This connectedness will contribute directly to your own well-being, but even more, it will contribute to the overall well-being of your neighborhood.
A hopeful neighborhood is one where neighbors are loved and supported through their hardest days.