I broke down crying. I was standing in the store after an upsetting day, looking at ornaments and overwhelmed by the choices. I had to leave and collect myself. And ya know what? It’s okay. It was a little embarrassing. I caught some looks. I’ll live.
Last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity of listening to a semi-retired therapist – Bonnie Gramlich- speak about the challenge of the holiday season. I’ll tell you what she talked about, my history with grief, and what I’ve been doing differently this year.
Lingering grief – lost loved ones, disappointments, old wounds reopened – it’s a hard time of year for many, including myself.
First she discussed Christmas,Kwanza, Hanukkah, and Yule. Then she spoke about how difficult of a time of year it is, how many people deal with loss at this time of year.
When she opened it up for questions, one listener stated that they’ve heard Winter called “The Dying Season” not only because of the “death” of greenery, but also because so many losses are faced or resurface around this time of year.
Last year putting up and taking down the Christmas tree, I cried the whole time. Not racking sobs. Just silent, streaming tears. There were too many ornaments that came from people who died. My aunt told me I needed to Konmari that. That’s why we were standing in the store, trying to buy new ornaments.
The man who raised me died the day after Christmas a while back. His father died a few days after Christmas several years before that. We’ve had to put two animals to sleep in December due to awful illnesses – saying goodbye is the worst part of having a pet. Then there were ornaments from the deaths outside of winter, and the people who are far away.
What I’ve Been Doing Differently This Year
Owning my humbuggery is a big start. If we’re being completely candid, Christmas has never been easy for me. I want to be excited about decorations and everything, but the joviality increases my skepticism. It feels so fake to me. I kinda think that the people around me have maybe increased my humbuggery – their negativity has leached off on me.
Limiting Holiday Stuff. We went one evening to the National Gingerbread House Competition. I enjoyed it. We didn’t go with a lot of people in our party, or more than once. In previous years we’ve gone more than once to accommodate others. I’ve watched two Christmas movies. That’s it: The Knight Before Christmas and Die Hard. Previously we’ve watched all these cheerful movies that took normalcy away and didn’t actually increase my holiday spirit. They’re good in small doses. Too much of a good thing just sucked out the jolly, though.
New Freaking Ornaments. I did not want to put up a tree (see above). Finally I agreed to do so for my daughter.
I used to put up themed trees. We also had quite a few ornament casualties due to feline assistance. One year it’d be red and green or silver and white. I put crisscrossed ribbon like I saw on Pinterest another year.
Slowly, though, the tree became less of a craftsy expression, and more of difficult memories.
Probably the pettiest of all is that my husband has a vast collection of cheesy ornaments. It feels like rubbing salt in a wound that he had a happier childhood than mine. With all the other haunting memories surrounding my own ornaments, there were his massive, gaudy pile taunting me.
This year, we let my daughter pick new shatterproof ornaments. We bought a matching tree topper. Then we picked select ornaments from mine, his, and hers. She has quite an assortment already.
Now I see mostly Santa ornaments from all three of us instead of sad memories and sobering comparisons. Comparison is the thief of Joy. Thomas Jefferson said that. It’s so true. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (or over the septic tank, or where you water it).
When so many people are truly joyous, or faking it, it can be a challenge to suffer in silence.
I believe we should listen to our hearts, respect any discomfort we’re experiencing, and be gentle with ourselves.
Life (and Christmas) is not Green Eggs and Ham. We’ve probably got a good handle on our likes and dislikes as adults. Trying new things is one matter, but subjecting oneself to disagreeable things is another.
The best part of Christmas to me has been trying to make the holidays special for my daughter. The magic of Christmas to me is giving. There’s no one else I’d rather give more to than my husband and daughter.
I’ll end with a paraphrase of the well wishes the speaker ended with:
My heart goes out to you if you are struggling with lack, loss, or anything else. May you find yourself in a place of giving and receiving love, and be nourished.