Life, Liberty, & Happiness

The Holiday Guest


very holiday since Ryan died, I hope the uninvited guest doesn’t show. I think, “Maybe this will be the holiday that he won’t make an appearance.” The season begins and at first things go well. I can feel quite fine for a while, even unexpectedly happy as the memory of the holidays catches me by surprise - and I let my guard down. I actually begin to fully consent to the joy.

I fool myself into believing I won’t have to contend with him this year, and all he brings with him when he barges in, unannounced and uninvited - the mess he so recklessly creates. For a while, I begin to feel like I’ve been given an annual reprieve - and I exhale.

And then it happens: A song on the radio, a smell coming from the kitchen, a photo on my timeline, a keepsake unwrapped for the first time in twelve months - and there he is sitting close beside me again: this grief that doesn’t take a holiday.

At first I’m devastated by the intrusion, knowing that grief has once again broken open those locked away rooms in my heart that I try to fortify. I feel the lump in my throat and the tears streaking down my cheeks and the void I’m feeling again because he’s here - grief is back.

I don’t want this right now. I don’t want him in this house. I want grief to let me be for one freakin’ holiday so that I can receive those tidings of comfort and joy that I’m supposedly entitled to but never seem to get my arms around. I want grief to leave.

But then I realize that he hasn’t come here uninvited to do me harm. He’s come here to surprise me with a gift that I hadn’t asked for, wouldn’t say I wanted, but I so desperately need.

The gift he gives me is this terrible, painful bittersweetness that reminds me just how much I loved my son Ryan - and how much he loved me - and that is the reason to be feeling such sadness now. This heartbreak is a monument, these tears are a tribute.

That’s why grief is here. Grief is the price of deeply loving someone. Grief’s presence is a testament to the endless love I felt for my son - and that love has to have somewhere to go - it didn’t  end when his life ended. The fact that I am feeling such a deficit in grief’s presence is a celebration of how blessed I’ve been, to have someone for whom I grieve so fully. The love for a lost son pouring out of my soul with nowhere to go - so it materializes in tears.

Grief is here right now to give me the gift of feeling it all again freshly, so that I never forget how beautiful those past holidays were, how easy gratitude was then, how kind and beautiful my boy was, and how effortless singing a song of joy could be when I held him in my arms. 

And yeah, maybe this is all much more difficult now, and maybe I’ll never have a holiday quite like that again because of the loss that’s taken place - but this uninvited, unannounced grief reminds me that just as Ryan left a legacy of love with me, so I’m given these days to do the same with those around me today I hold dear. 

I have this season and these holidays and this moment to be present with those I treasure; to make memories and create traditions and appreciate the beauty of life - because that is what Ryan did with me while he was with me - and while he could. This is what love does. 

About Dr. Michael Burcham

Michael is an executive coach, entrepreneur, investor, and strategist with 30 years of experience leading investor-backed, high-growth organizations.

“I built and sold a $40M company with Dr. Burcham as my mentor. This is the thing: if you EVER get the opportunity to learn from this man, from that moment forward, you’ll list him as one of the most influential people in your life, even if you live to be 90. And, you’ll know how lucky you were to have that opportunity and you’ll immediately say YES to any chance to be in his presence again—his wisdom is that impactful.”

Sherry Stewart Deutschmann

Former CEO, Letter Logic

“If you are looking for a trusted mentor and coach for yourself or your leadership team, I highly recommend Michael Burcham. He has worked with me as my executive coach for well over a decade now. Our conversations and his feedback have helped me sharpen my critical thinking skills. He’s a trusted advisor that I can confidentially speak with about any issue—and I know I’ll get valued feedback. I highly recommend him.”

Ryan McGrath

CEO, Asset Living

“Dr. Burcham’s depth and breadth of experience makes even the most ADD entrepreneurial leader sit up and take notes! His coaching skills bring out the ‘best you’ possible. He selflessly shares the good, the bad, and the ugly—leaving you with an authentic and moving experience sure to spur action and professional growth!”

Julie Lenzer

Director, U.S. Department of Commerce


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