Grief and the Holidays

3 12 2006

The month of December is an odd time of year.  For some, it’s full of hope, good cheer, and wonder, but for others, it can be a time of pain, heartache and a cold reminder of the great loss they may have experienced in the prior year.  It seems as if however someone is already doing becomes magnified times a hundred during December, whether they want it to be, or not.  This year, I find myself swinging between the two extremes like a child on a tire swing.     

Because Holidays are landmarks in the year, it makes reminiscing easy; recalling the smiles, laughs, and pretty wrapping scattered to the four corners of the house as if Santa’s toyshop had exploded, but there are also memories of tears and pain.     

For the past few years, the holiday season has been something I’ve both anticipated and secretly dreaded, because sometimes, even the cute holiday TV specials seem like a hard reminder of how imperfect life is.   It’s not only that there are so many hopes and dreams resting on this season — and sometimes even on a short twenty-four-hour window in time — but there’s also the feeling you’re suppose to be giddy, warm all the way down to your toes, and uncontrollably happy while spreading your festive spirit to anyone who happens to cross your path, but sometimes life doesn’t look like a scene right out of “White Christmas.”     

To paraphrase something I was once told, “Even though the holidays are fun, I sometimes wish we didn’t have any, because it’s so much worse when something go array on one of them than any other day during the year.”    To be honest, right now, even simple holiday chitchat is awkward.  Since my dad isn’t living with us any more (see “Life in a Nutshell”) I have no idea what we’ll even be doing this Christmas, how we’re going to work out all the little details, and I’d rather not think about it.  I hide how I’m feeling about it with a smile, joke, a bit of friendly sarcasm, or a long list of question posed at whomever I’m talking with, so that I don’t have to talk.  I’d almost like to just ignore the holidays, so that I don’t have to deal with them and all the emotions and grief they drag out into our plain view.    

I still do enjoy hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” playing on the radio, wearing fuzzy gloves and warm winter coats, and seeing the snow fall from the sky and stick to your eyelashes.  It isn’t that I no longer care, or don’t want to enjoy this festive time of year, but while I’m smiling and humming along with my favorite carol, I sometimes also feel like crying.  

Since skipping the holidays isn’t very practical and wouldn’t help things any, and hibernating is clearly out of the question because I can’t sleep past ten o’clock in the morning, I guess I need to take this one step at a time, and be patient with my family and myself, and remember it isn’t the magic that makes this time of year worth celebrating; it’s the miracle.  There’s reason to be joyful, even if I don’t always feel happy.    

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17 responses

4 12 2006
timglass

Unfortunately there are no easy answers. No way to remove all the painful memories. I would like to offer a suggestion though, some-what paradoxical; there can be no resurrection without the Cross. The suffering, the pain we go through, is a part of dying to ourselves.
God then takes that sacrifice, and brings about our transformation, from the inside out.
It is not easy, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do it.
When I think of the pain and suffering Jesus went through, to redeem me, my suffering then pales in comparison.
I’m am not trying to trivialize your pain at all. I just wanted to remind you, there is hope.
When I’ve gone through trying times, I just quote my favorite Bible verse over and over again, it’s found several times in both the Old Testament and the New…” and it came to pass…” 🙂
Nothing here lasts forever, praise God!
His blessings this day and this Season.

4 12 2006
Mike

Thank you for sharing. I too have had mixed feelings during the holidays, for various reasons. It is good to know that others feel similar.

4 12 2006
Moe

Tim,

You’re right, there isn’t a “quick fix.” Grief never goes away with a wave of a magic wand, but there still is hope. Hope that God will walk through life with us, and hope in knowing nothing lasts forever.

When you’re in the middle of something, it’s hard to know that God is turly going to use it to somehow bring glory to His name, which is where faith comes in. I can’t see what He’s doing, I can’t always see the ways I’m learning, growing, or becoming more like Christ, but I know He will use this time — just like He’s used others — to mold me and bring glory to Himself.

Later — mayebe even years down the road — I’ll be able to see something beautiful that has come out of it, even though that doesn’t mean I’ll have answers, I’ll be able to see how I’ve changed.

-Kelsey

4 12 2006
Moe

Mike,

Yes, there are other people who feel similarly, but it can still leave you feeling like the odd man out.

Thanks for commenting.

-Kelsey

4 12 2006
hudds53

Kelsey
You are so correct. The holiday season can be the best of times but it can also be one of the sadest of times. At times I know I have almost felt as if there was something wrong with me. Every where I seemed to look and everyone else seemed so happy and full of Christmas cheer. Why aren’t I feeling that same way. Some times I even wonder with a lot of others, is it all just a big act or show they are putting on. It is like we are almost expected to feel all bubbly and cheerful and so we act that way to not let others down or to hide our true feelings.
It almost seems as if with the majority of people the true spiritual reason to celebrate Christmas has been lost. It has become more a big commercial gift exchange with a few days off work. How can that make everyone as bubbly and cheerful as everyone lets on.
Bill

4 12 2006
writerchick

Kelsey,
I know how you feel as I’ve felt that way on many holidays. In fact, for several years I boycotted Thanksgiving and created the tradition of eating cheeseburgers, bbq potato chips & diet coke while watching the Twilight Zone marathon. I did it alone, did not invite others and didn’t accept any invitations to do otherwise either.

I think sometimes you have to find your own way or tradition with holidays as your life and mindset changes. Maybe you could find a few like minded friends and have a grinch-a-thon or something.

But whatever you do or don’t do for Christmas, make it special for you in your own way – not the way that other prescribe. I think that is what breaks some people’s hearts so much at the holidays is because they have a certain expectation that is never met. My mother was like that – always such high expectations rather than just enjoying the day for whatever laughs, joy or even sadness that came.

I’ll be thinking of you. Hang tough sweetie.
WC

5 12 2006
Moe

Bill,
Yes, it is like people are all expected to act bubbly and cheerful. It’s as if we’re all told like should like something right out of our favorite Christmas specials, but it doesn’t often look like that. Just because there are holidays, gift exchanges, days off work, and outings with friends and family, doesn’t mean that life has suddenly becoming a fairytale.

It’s sad when people have so many expectation about how December should be; they’re just setting themselves up for disappointment. December, just like any other month out of the year has it’s ups and downs, good and bad, but when we see it as something magical, and it turns out to be just as good, bad and ugly as the rest of the year we’re surprised.

I love what Writerchick said in her comment bellow yours about enjoying the day for whatever laughs, joy or even sadness that may come.

I hope your holidays are special, Bill, however they turn out.

-Kelsey

5 12 2006
Moe

WC,
Life’s changed a lot over the past year, so our old family traditions are now hard to resurrect. Because life is different, by default, so are the holidays, but we’re working on finding a new way of celebrating them.

My mom’s always wanted to make a tradition of going to see “The Nutcracker,” but it’s something we’ve never gotten around to, but this year we’re going to go see it. Rather than looking at how the holidays have been and wishing we could go back to everything being the way it was before, we’re starting over, and making new memories and traditions, too.

You’re right, I think it’s good to find your own traditions as life and your mindset changes. Instead of just being the end of something, it also becomes the beginning of something new.

I love the grinch-a-thon idea. Maybe I’ll have to give it a try. 🙂

I always enjoy your comments, WC. Thank you.

-Kelsey

6 12 2006
writerchick

Well Sweetie,
I am loving that Nutcracker idea. Gee, I wish I could go with you, that’s something I’ve never done either and always wanted to. I did finally go see a Christmas Carol as a live play a couple of years ago and it was really a delightful change. I’ll be doing a few posts on some memorable (some good, some bad) Christmas’s soon that you may get a chuckle out of. I don’t live in a Hallmark card either.

Oh the Grinch-a-thon! If you want some movie suggestions I have a few. 😉
WC

8 12 2006
Moe

WC,
I’m looking forward to seeing it. It should be fun. Back when my brother was about five-years-old he watched The Nutcracker on TV and for a whole year he ran around wtih a bucket on his head saying “I’m a Nutcracker!” My first introduction to classical ballet. 😉

I’m looking forward to your “memorable Christmas’s.”

Grinch movies suggestions would be good. Which ones do you recommend?

-Kelsey

8 12 2006
writerchick

Well…obviously the Grinch.
then there is a movie called “the Ref”
“the nightmare after christmas”
“scrooged”
“Welcome to Paradise”
“Stealnig Christmas”

They are pretty funny and offbeat – with great casts and witty writing. Also if you can get your hands on some old Twilight Zone episodes they did a few Christmas stories that are really way out.

If that doesn’t do it – spike the eggnog some more. 😉
WC

8 12 2006
Moe

That’s a great list. I’ve seen most of them, and enjoy them. I like “The Nightmare Before Christmas”; it’s so strange. 🙂

-Kelsey

12 12 2006
Mrs. Nicklebee

Kelsey,

I think this post makes Bill’s birthday requests even more important (1. Random acts of kindness and 2. Wear a smile for everyone), especially for those of us who are not dealing with a recent loss. We just never know who’s hurting. Yours is the second blog I’ve read in the past few days talking about the pain surrounding the holidays and hiding the pain or recent or impending loss from others.

Something that has helped me on difficult holidays is to do something different, as has already been suggested. When I was in my teens, my Grandma died. She had lived with us for more than half of my life at that point so she was almost like a second mother. Anyway, when she died, I felt like my guts had been torn out. I think we all did. That first Christmas was terrible. We did pretty much what we always did except without Grandma. I was so depressed. My Mom and sister were trying to make it a happy time but I just wanted to die. I remember just stretching out on the couch and wanting to cry or yell at my Mom and sister or just generally be ugly to everyone. My Dad chose the less offensive route and stayed in bed most of the day. (Grandma was his mother.)

As an adult, when we’ve had difficult Christmases, I have decided (Mr. Nicklebee isn’t married to any one thing, unless it would be to eat shortbread cookies or Pecan Sandies.) that we will do something as different from tradition as possible (without turning it into a grinch-fest. lol not saying that would be wrong!). That has helped keep the old traditions from being ruined by association. We’ve had enough upheaval in our lives that we don’t really have any one set thing we do on Christmas that we have to do in order for the earth to keep turning. Christmas when someone is dying or has died is hard enough without trying to do the same thing “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

12 12 2006
Mrs. Nicklebee

Whoops! I went and clicked submit without signing off!

I’m sorry for your heartache, hon. 😦 I hope you have a Merry Christmas anyway.

In Christ, who also wept,

Mrs. N

13 12 2006
Moe

Mrs. Nicklebee,

Thank you for taking the time to comment. 🙂

Yes, you never know who may be dealing with pain, or grief during the holidays, and random acts of kindness and a friendly smile can help brighten a somewhat blue day.

I’ve found this year that doing something different does help, because I don’t have the same level of expectations, and there aren’t the memories (both good and bad) that are as likely to come to mind. It’s also our first Christmas in our new house, which have actually helped, because it makes it even easier to do things differently.

Merry Christmas, Mrs. Nicklebee!

-Kelsey

18 12 2006
flightpattern

Thanks for being honest about the grief and the need for patience. I am trying to be gentle to myself, love myself through this painful time, and it is tough. Good to know you too are on the narrow road.
Peace,
FP

18 12 2006
Moe

Yep, I’m there, too, and according to the comments I’ve gotten on this post, I think lots of others have been there. Each person’s grief is different, but no matter what it is, it all seems to make the holidays challenging, and sometimes very painful. I wish you luck this holiday season, FP. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Take care,
-Kelsey

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