I want to write about something that a lot of people don’t talk about, including myself. In fact, for many years, I lived in blissful denial until reality smacked me in the face, each and every time. For some people, the holidays can be difficult.
Yes, I know that this acknowledgement doesn’t have everyone running for Christmas cookies and singing Christmas carols. In fact, maybe you just threw the cookies at the screen, stuck your fingers in your ear and started singing extremely loudly, “Fa la la la la la la la la…”
I know this isn’t true for everyone but I was blessed enough that both my mom’s family and my dad’s family got along well enough that we spent holidays together as a group. That’s rare and special and I treasure those memories very much.
Then my parent’s divorced.
Here is the lie I told myself: Nothing really is going to change. Your parents still love you. Your parents still parent you together. Your parents respect one another and care for one another and even laugh together. Count your freaking blessings. It’s Christmas! Joy to the World, NINA!
I don’t blame myself for telling myself this lie. In a way, I needed to tell myself this lie. But the lie got me into trouble, especially during the holidays. Because I would sing Christmas carols and wrap presents and talk about advent as the day approached without even thinking about the lie I told myself. Then the day would happen (it could be any holiday, but let’s focus on Christmas) and I would wake up with this unbearable sadness that I took out on everyone around me in the form of meanness. Total Christmas cheer for everyone, right? Joy to the world is right.
Finally, after a couple of years of reality smacking me in the face, I admitted: holidays are difficult in some ways and that is okay. It is okay that it makes me sad that not everyone can be together. It’s okay that it makes me a little sad even when I am having a great time with my dad’s family because one crucial person is missing–my mom. And It’s okay that it makes me a little sad when I am laughing with my mom’s family too. It’s okay to admit that it is not fun to leave one family’s house early to go to dessert at the other house.**
This bit of sadness comes from a good and healthy place. It’s not wrong to feel it (which is what I thought when I lied to myself and took it out on others). So now, I feel it. I let it wash over me. I go into the holiday knowing the push and pull that is in my heart (not because anyone ever makes me feel guilty) because who doesn’t want to be with everyone they love on Christmas?
It’s not just divorce either. If we’ve lost someone, we can feel the joy of Christmas morning but also be very aware of who is missing. I would argue that we are more aware of loss on the days that our families come together. And that’s okay. What do we expect of ourselves?
I learned that I could feel this way without sinking into that feeling, that in fact, admitting it, kept me from sinking into it and becoming withdrawn or angry on the actual day. And yes, I realize I am a grown woman, and on a daily basis there is no woe is me about the divorce, but on holidays, yes, there are hard parts.
I am by no means an expert but the biggest piece of advice I can give people is to actually allow themselves to feel however they are feeling (and no, that does not mean I am suggesting anyone wallow in it) and to actually consider the day before the day happens so there isn’t an avalanche of feeling on Christmas morning. If you need to talk about it, talk about it…beforehand. With someone it is safe to talk about these types of things with. But, don’t try to talk about it on the actual day, because I don’t think I need to spell out for you how that is a recipe for a domino effect of depression. Haha?
Please know that I will be doing these same things this Christmas. I am in process, constantly. Aren’t we all?
*My disclaimer that I must give is that I continue to be blessed by my family. Everyone, and I mean everyone, works very hard to make it easier for both Joe and I, whether that means eating dinner earlier than normal or just saying to us over and over again, “It’s okay. Do not feel bad. It’s okay” when we leave early. I am never made to feel guilty (I can only imagine how difficult that would be in a situation like this); I am well aware that people in similar situations cannot always say this. I am encouraged to spend as much time as I want or is necessary with either side of the family by either side of the family. My nonna puts together a plate of her infamous, delicious shells for my cousins on my mom’s side because they still miss them. My mom gives my nonna a Christmas present. The place my feelings come from is a good place because I am blessed to have all these incredible people in my life .
You know those Christmas cards that are pouring into your mailbox? They are great and I love them. I do. But just know, that is a picture. That is a flat image. Christmas doesn’t always go as beautifully as those cards. Something burns. Someone brings up politics. Whatever it may be. Isn’t that why people love the Griswold Family so much? I mean, maybe it’s just us, but my family could be the Griswolds. But then I remember, and I suggest gently that you also remember, that Christmas is not actually about you or me or decking the halls with boughs of holly.
It actually IS about Joy to the world.
…and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Don’t beat yourself up for feeling a certain way. But don’t relish in it either. Relish in The Joy.
Okay, so I hope I handled that diplomatically and graciously.
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