Hello Sunday Readers. Great to see you here.
As I have mentioned in some past blog posts here, there are currently some big things going on in my life and in my family’s life that I really can’t share here, or it wouldn’t be a good idea anyway. But one thing I have noticed is that HOW I cope with grief, loss, and really hard things has changed over the years. Also, with different kinds of losses, different things help. I think this is especially true around the holidays.
For example, after Don’s sudden death just over twelve years ago, I wanted nothing to do with the holidays the first couple of years, and it took me a few YEARS to really get back to a place where I could truly like and then love Christmas again. This was heartbreaking to me, because I had always been such a huge Christmas freak. I was “that person” who put up lights and decorations the second that Halloween was over, who blasted and sang Christmas songs beginning in October, and who insisted that Thanksgiving was merely a holiday that was “part of Christmas season.” Don loved my childlike innocence surrounding Christmas, and he got such joy from witnessing my joy at the Christmas season. We would watch all the Christmas specials together, had our little holiday traditions, and then on Sunday, December 18, one week before Christmas in 2005, he proposed to me underneath the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree; which we then re-named “our tree.” Each year after that, we would go back to “our tree” on December 18th, and have peppermint hot chocolate with candy canes and whipped cream, just like we did on that night, and at our wedding reception; which was themed “Christmas in October.”
And then he died, and for me, I wanted nothing to do with Christmas. I somehow knew that I had to walk away from all things Christmas for as long as I needed to, so that I wouldnt hate Christmas forever. I knew that one day, I would probably love it again, even though it would always carry that bittersweet sadness with it. I just could not fake my way through that season, and I refused to. I didnt want to end up being resentful of my favorite holiday and favorite time of year, forever. And it worked. I stayed away from Christmas, ignored it mostly, and didnt go anywhere near “our tree” for the first few years post-death. I spent my first Christmas without Don at Foxwoods Casino, playing slot machines with a zombie look in my eyes and a lifeless heart. I did not want any presents, because Don couldn’t have any ever again. Every decoration I saw, I felt the urge to kick repeatedly. I stayed far away from stores with people singing and shopping and wrapping paper and bows and hot chocolate with whipped cream. Each time I got a Christmas card from a friend or family member, and saw their perfect smiling families and children surrounded by love and snow and all the years they would be honored enough to have together, I wanted to toss each one of them into the trash. Maybe I even did that. Sorry to anyone who sent me a card in 2011, 2012, and probably 2013.
I was a mess. My heart was shattered. I wanted none of it. I had to rebuild my heart and make sure it was ready to let Christmas in again. Somewhere around year four after my loss, I started to feel my love for Christmas returning. Different, yet still there. Deeper and more profound, in many ways. I felt like The Grinch, at the end of that special, where his heart expands and continues to grow.
Now, a dozen years later, I’m going through some really hard things – and those things are extremely difficult to be going through right around Christmas time. The things we are going through also have already affected our Thanksgiving in a negative way, and Christmas will be very different this year for our family. And yet, I do not feel the same way that I felt all those years ago. While our Christmas this year is certainly more minimal (not doing a christmas tree, very small gathering on the day itself, buying way less gifts or none at all in some cases, not doing a lot of our annual traditions or cutting them back due to finances and/or tensions within the family), I’m actually feeling very nostalgic with a twist of longing for a little of that Christmas spirit. I smile and feel warmth with each Christmas card I receive, I find myself blasting the Christmas music when Im out in my car doing errands, and I love looking at the lights and decorations that I see on other people’s houses and properties. I’m also feeling that giving spirit this year, and have been finding small ways to donate my book forward, or to pay it forward by offering someone pro-bono grief-counseling sessions While years ago, the very thought of Christmas made me sick to my stomach, this year – it’s almost the opposite. It’s almost like I NEED a little bit of Christmas cheer, hope, and light, to help me get through this. I’m not sure why this is, but it doesn’t really matter I suppose. We do the things that work for us, and sometimes, those things change and shift over the years.
Just like grief, and just like life.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Wherever you are at along your grief tsunami path, please know that it’s okay to do what you need to do, or not do, to get yourself through it.