Celebrating the Holidays
It is almost Christmas - 10 days away! Can you believe it? The holiday season used to be so fun for me. I loved the anticipation of Christmas Eve, when all would be calm, cheery, and warm. I have a December birthday and that only added to the anticipation as a child.
When my mother started to get sick, it was more pronounced around the holidays. Suddenly her greeting cards made less sense. She wrote the wrong names on the presents. Her pies were strange, the house a mess. She stopped making Christmas cookies. It didn't add up.
The holidays then morphed into a whole new thing, trying to recreate traditions of the past to force a sense of normalcy. It was like fitting a square peg into a round hole. We took her out to Christmas Eve dinner and she ran out into the car, changing dinner into a carry out situation. My dad made me a birthday cake and I had to push my leg out, keeping my mom away from eating the whole thing in one bite while I blew out the candles. We tried to make everything look and feel the same, and failed. As a family, we spent a lot of time at the beginning her illness running through hoops to make everything seem like it once was. We hadn't quite learned that it would never be that way again.
After my mother moved into assisted living and no longer lived with us anymore, it really hit us. We had to celebrate Christmas with her at her home, not ours. She no longer filled the house with Christmas music, and we no longer shared in any traditions with her. Instead, we created new traditions with her. We Facetimed with family members out of town. We played her favorite carols to her in her room and sang to her. Christmas gifts became pajamas and essential oils for her pillow instead of pretty shoes or new shirts. We would celebrate with her early in the day, or even the day before, so that we could go have our family celebration together without the pressure of seeing her looming above us. It felt like that sometimes, an obligation, even if it was filled with love.
It is not an easy season for most people. Loss creates an empty space that is so apparent where traditions existed once and must repeat. Losing my mother a year ago on December 17th makes it especially painful this year. I was feeling so overwhelmed when the month turned to December 1st. I had been dreading the upcoming death anniversary since last year, and I knew it would unravel me and send me into another joyless holiday and birthday season. Then I had a realization: I don't have to let my mother's illness and death ruin another year for me. I can still celebrate and find joy in creating new traditions, weaving in some of the old. I can find peace in her freedom from dementia's hold. I can take some time away from work and holiday planning to reflect and remember. Then I can pick it all back up again, and have some fun.
This might sound easy, but it was a huge epiphany for me! I also know it is because I am not dealing with the direct stress anymore. If you asked me about the holidays last year, lets just say there would probably be a lot of crying or cursing or both.
Be gentle to others this holiday season. Everyone says this, but there is a lot of pain and hurt going on in the world today. Not everyone enjoys the holidays, and maybe your office grinch is experiencing a painful anniversary as well. Take time to remember and grieve without blaming yourself for enjoying parts of this season. And if you can't stand any of this, it will be over quickly and we can start fresh in the new year. Happy Holidays!