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, November 29, 2017

Home For the Holidays

No matter what holiday we 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. If we live in a warmer climate, Santa might wear shorts, and holiday lights are strung in palm trees instead of spruce.

We remember the HOME where we grew up, the festive activities we’d do every year, the decorations we’d put up, the special foods we’d snack on still hot from the oven, and all the gatherings of family and friends. Eventually we moved away, began our own lives, and created 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 mystical warmth where there was always love, friendly banter, and endless sugar cookies or babka.

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.

However, the first holiday season after the death of someone we loved, our sense of HOME is pretty much nonexistent. The person who made our life a home is missing, and we’re left with a house that feels empty. Hearing the song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is painful every time it plays. If we lost someone this year, it will be a Blue Christmas, a Blue Hannukah.

The Christmas after Evelyn died was incredibly hard because it was her favorite season. She loved to decorate, bake, sing in holiday shows, and buy gifts for everyone she knew. 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 motivate 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 she loved, I put on a CD by Sarah McLachlan singing of her loss 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 is that we often look in the wrong direction with the holidays. We keep looking back at that idyllic past, wanting to recreate that perfect holiday, instead of looking ahead to see how we can make the holidays live again. What are we looking for this year? Is it the warm presence of others? The feeling of hope? A glimpse of light rising on the distant horizon?

Find something that makes you smile or brings you a moment of peace. Return to this throughout the holidays whenever you begin to feel overwhelmed. For me, it is sitting in the woods and listening to nature.