Opening Letters

COLUMN: Goodness in the Wake of Grief

as a new year begins, warmth can help a numb heart thaw

Katy Hackworthy, illustrated by Sarah Ryan |

After preparing a nourishing meal and cozying up on the couch for a quiet Friday night in, a dear friend brought up how January has historically been a special month for us. The past few years in particular, we’ve intentionally taken that time to slow down and invite more intention into our lives, both together and apart. 

The past few Decembers, on the other hand, have been the opposite for me, with dizzying grief, loneliness, and confusion casting a shadow over my deep love of the holidays and the peacefulness the end of the year often brings. From relationships and home spaces shifting in ways that sent me reeling to sitting in the aftermath of physical and emotional traumas, the holiday season took on an unfamiliar taste that’s difficult to wash out of my mouth, even now. That heaviness made it nearly impossible to lean into the stillness of the season, or the happiness of the holiday hustle and bustle, despite the unending kindness and grace of the people around me through it all. 

This year, as November started to inch towards December, it was difficult not to allow dread to trickle in, despite the ways my life has changed for the better in 2022. I’m certain many of us have dealt with the formidable feeling of “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” and despite knowing that’s not how the world works, I felt myself anticipating something awful to happen once the calendar page turned over one last time. 

 Growth is by no means linear, but it can coexist with grief, and as I’ve discovered this holiday season, it must.


Instead of focusing on all there was to be grateful for (my incredible chosen and blood family, access to mental health care, stable housing and jobs, etc.), I let the anxiety of what could go wrong take over, and for a moment, every unknown number was a stranger calling to tell me my grandmother was in the hospital, or every tickle in my throat was a potential illness that could isolate me from the community whose care has bolstered me through an already tumultuous, but ultimately healing, year. 

Thankfully, that moment of dread was fleeting. Through intentional community building, prioritizing mental healthcare, and certainly a little luck, I’ve been able to cultivate the tools and the support system to create a path for goodness amidst all the grief. While enjoying home cooked meals with my chosen family, we are able to be there for each other through our collective and individual healing journeys. Through consistent therapy sessions with a caring support professional, I’ve been able to both identify and process my feelings in ways I couldn’t have fathomed just a few years ago. Growth is by no means linear, but it can coexist with grief, and as I’ve discovered this holiday season, it must. 

I now grieve those dark Decembers past not for all the darkness that loomed over them, but for the light I wasn’t able to truly witness until now; the way dear friends folded me into their family’s holiday cheer, from Kate’s grandmother filling up a stocking for me to Darwin and Cypress feigning belief in Santa Claus to infuse some much-needed magic into my Christmas Eve; next door neighbors turned new friends waiting on the front porch in below-freezing temperatures to make sure I made it to my car safely each evening before work; loved ones not only enduring but cheering on my tearful karaoke tunes on New Year’s Eve. 

All these gestures and more comforted me in the times when I needed it most, but numb hearts take longer to thaw under all that warmth, so it’s now that I can finally fully bask in all the goodness in the wake of grief. I feel unbelievably grateful to be able to say that throughout all the toughest moments of my life, I’ve always been able to cling to one ever present truth: I am so, so loved. I can only hope that anyone whose life has crossed paths with mine is able to feel that same thing.