Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Home For the Holidays







Finding a place to survive when your world has been torn apart.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice or another observance that you celebrate at this time of year, our memories of being HOME for it are probably similar.

The idea of going HOME for the holidays fills us with warm images, of sleigh bells and dreidels, of lattes and latkes, of Hallmark moments complete with snow, ice skating and houses with glowing lights. Although, if we live in a warmer climate, Santa might wear shorts, and Christmas lights are strung in palm trees instead of pine.

We remember the HOME where we grew up, the holiday activities we’d do every year, the decorations we’d put up, the special foods we’d eat, and all the various gatherings of family and friends. Eventually we moved away and began our own lives, creating a new HOME with a different set of holiday traditions.

No matter how old we are, when the holidays come around every year, our minds return HOME to a place that has become slightly mythical, a place of warmth where there was always love, friendly banter and endless sugar cookies.

Going HOME renewed our sense of hope that had flagged over the year. Returning HOME was like starting over. We could dream again of how wonderful life could be. It was our bar at “Cheers” where everyone knew our name and accepted us with all our faults.

            *
The first holiday season after the death of someone we loved, our sense of HOME is pretty much flat.

The person who made our life a home is missing, and we’re left with a house that feels empty. The song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” takes on irony. Besides muttering angry thoughts under our breath every time we hear it, we still desperately want to reclaim whatever is left of HOME so that we can wrap ourselves in it until the holidays are over.

            *
The Christmas after Evelyn died was incredibly hard because it was her favorite season. She loved to decorate, bake, sing in holiday Revels shows, and buy gifts for everyone she knew. Often I plugged into her energy. That first year after, I actually managed to put up a Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent, but could not motivated myself to add any lights or decorations.

On Christmas Eve, feeling a little better, I added a single strand of white lights and two ornaments, a white-silver heart with red and green garlands for Evelyn’s love, and a dark-green, tissue-paper heart for me, because my heart felt torn and dark. Rather than play Christmas music, especially the happy Swedish yumpy-yumpy songs that Ev loved, I put on a CD by Sarah McLachlan singing of her losses and longing: “the night’s too long and cold here without you.” It seemed more appropriate for remembering that refugee family from long ago.

The problem with the holidays is that we are always looking in the wrong direction. We keep looking back wanting to find that idyllic past and replicate that perfect holiday, instead of looking ahead to  how we can make the holidays live again.


If we lost someone this year, we don’t have much choice.

11 comments:

  1. Thank you Mark. I really like the last paragraphs, because I seem to suddenly be buried in grief again and I want to also let go. Life is too short to be so sad every year at this time.

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    1. It is hard to let go of holidays past because we liked them the way they were. And it's hard just to come up with new ways of celebrating them. I think that no matter what we come up with, they will never be better, just different.

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  3. Thanks Mark. This is my second holiday season and it was no easier. I had wished the decorating would be "fun" again and it would bring back the home for the holidays warmth. The first year I did put out almost all of her loved decorations (feeling I was obligated to the ritual), but this year just a few of her favorite ornaments, and each year will choose different ones. That made it easier and I'm OK with that and, as you say, can wrap myself in those memories without being overwhelmed. Wishing you and your family the most happiness in the season, and my sincere condolences on your recent loss.

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    1. Thank you, Pete. I like your idea of just doing part of what you used to do. As you say, it made it easier.

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  4. Of course the message of Christmas is hope for the future, but through the lens of grief we look back at our idyllic memories....I am always amazed at the duality of grief's journey...thank you for your insights

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  5. My wife passed away just five weeks ago. My three young kids and I are trying to survive this Christmas by doing what we've always done, but as the holiday gets closer, it's getting harder to even breathe. I just found your blog this morning, and I thank you for your words. I'll be a regular reader now!

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    1. I am so sorry, Mick. No death is good, but death near the holidays has extra bite. You may feel caught, wanting to skip the holidays completely, yet you have your children to think about. They grieve, too, but they still want some of the holiday celebration. So do some of your traditional things, but don't push. If the family isn't in the mood to do something you've always done at this time of year, don't insist. You will help each other get through this dark time.

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