Warning: This Is Not Your Typical Holiday Post
It’s almost Christmas and so the blogosphere is jam packed with posts about presents, trees, charity, the holiday spirit and all that. Since I don’t have the Martha Stewart gene I’m not even going to attempt a post about the perfect Christmas. Instead I want to talk about something that most people don’t want to talk about because it doesn’t belong on some snowy Christmas card. The holidays can bring profound sorrow out, coaxing it from the corners of our hearts. All the talk about more, leads to feelings of less. All the family gatherings seem to remind us of empty chairs. If you’ve never lost someone, you can probably skip this post. This one is for all my fellow closet Christmas criers.
The Perfect Storm
It should be no big secret that Christmas is an incredibly difficult time for many people and I’m no exception. I always think of grief as a storm in the ocean, the tide may go out, but it always comes back in and Christmas, my friends, is the perfect storm. It’s a time when there is so much focus on family and the loss of each of my loved ones seems to build upon each other to create the most insurmountable of waves.
The Club Nobody Wants To Join
When I first tried to explain it to my husband, I told him losing a parent was like joining a club that none of the members wanted to belong to. I told him he just wouldn’t understand and that was fine because I didn’t want him to. Fast-forward many years and I stood by his side while he lost his mom and then a few years later his dad and two years ago he held my hand when I lost my mom. There has been so much loss for a couple in their 30s including our first child that I never got to meet. If you’re a member of the club you already get it. You’ve heard that shriek of grief that somehow reaches out from your soul and sounds foreign even though you’re pretty sure you’re the one making it. I just want you to know that while the world parades it’s holiday joy, I’ll be joining you in the solitude to bare my soul and remember each amazing human being that has passed from my life.
Leaning On Family & Faith
I know that despite the sorrow that is bound to overtake me this season, I am profoundly lucky. I have loved and been loved so well. Some people never get that. I don’t have the words to make grief fade because it doesn’t, the space between waves just gets wider. All I know is that I have to fight the urge to isolate from my friends and family. My husband and children give me the strength I need to get through another wave, another storm. I lean on my faith and it helps me see eternity not the punishment I used to think was – the time away from my lost loved ones. It helps me see that good bye is not forever, but just for now.
I think the thing to remember during the Christmas Cry is that the wave, though big, is temporary so if you feel like you’re drowning in sorrow just keep treading water and reach out for help. Check out Hudson Valley Parent’s article, “Tears and Tinsel” to learn ways to cope with grief while honoring your lost loved one. I’m going to add three of my own tips:
1. Get In The Picture – Yes, you heard right. So I’m as guilty as every other mom who tends to stand behind the camera instead of in front of it. The day of me feeling good enough to get in the spot light is probably never going to dawn, but in the mean time I owe it to my kids to get in all the great holiday shots with them. Why? Because these pictures are how they will remember me when I’m gone. Do you want your kids to remember a trip or a visit to Santa but not that you were there with them? The best way to honor your loved ones is to give your kids more memories of you. I think the thing we’re most afraid of when we lose someone is that we will forget things about them that we loved. Photos help keep memories alive in our minds so while we can’t go back and take more of our loved ones, we can honor them by making more memories for our future generations. We are the living extensions of those who’ve come before us.
2. Explore Your Ancestry – I think it would be cool to learn more about where you came from and I think family trees and histories are a great thing to pass on to your children. I’m so glad I got to interview my grandmother for an article I wrote in college on women and work. I got to hear about her life as a young woman, mother and the amazing superhero I know she was. I’m thankful to know things about her that happened before even my father was born. If you have older generations still living, I highly recommend interviewing them and collecting as much information you can about their history as well as other family members. Ancestry.com is worth a try as well, though I’ll admit I’ve never used it. Feel free to share your experiences with it here.
3. Remember What Irritated You – This one is going to sound crazy, but hear me out. When I was going through my mom’s clothes and jewelry after she passed, my step-sister and I started sharing stories about some of the crazy things my mom has done. Thinking about that time she tried to back off an on-ramp on the highway or how she’d get crazy before company was coming and go on a cleaning spree and start vacuuming at one in the morning, they made me laugh at a time I thought even smiling was impossible. Not only does it remind you that they were human beings with flaws, not icons on a pedestal, but finding the humor and love in all the things that drove you crazy about them reminds you that life is messy and flawed and it’s ok to laugh at your lack of control sometimes. I often come up with musings I call Erinisms and here’s this week’s: Family is not comprised of people who revel in your greatness. It’s comprised of people who celebrate your flaws.
So I hope you find healing this holiday season even amidst your grief. If you find it during a late night secret Christmas Cry, don’t worry you’re in good company.