It’s “that time of year,” and the pressure is on.
To look happy, to be happy, to have a happy family, to make happy memories.
To cook beautiful meals that you serve to beautiful friends and beautiful family.
To make other people happy by buying just the right thing but being smart and buying it at just the right price, which happens to be available all the way across town, of course.
But only in the middle of the night.
While supplies last.
This is the Holiday Overlay. This is the Big False Dream that is cleverly pimped and primped, simpered over, and whimpered about. We’re complicit in this story, by the way.
But that is another essay.
This essay is not about the Holiday Overlay, but the underbelly of sorrow and loss that robs many, many people of joy during this socially-mandated season of joy.
If you’ve lived into your adult years, I’m sure you can relate.
Perhaps this is one of those years in your own life when you had to face some major loss.
Or, perhaps, this is the just the season when one of your personal holiday traditions is to bring your old, festering wounds out of storage for display along with the faux garland and tinsel and bows.
Now, here’s the thing, Sweet Pea: I LOVE the holidays. I didn’t always. But I do now.
That’s because I’ve learned the secret of “doing the holidays right.”
I never pretend.
Instead, I allow myself to observe myself feeling what I think I am feeling. And, when what I think I am feeling is causing me pain, I decide to change my mind, and get a NEW STORY.
Now, my Old Story, the one that caused me a lot of pain for too many Christmas’s Past, was one of loss.
And what makes healing that story really, really tricky is that IT IS TRUE.
Well, on at least a couple of different levels it is true.
It is true, for example, that my father left when I was just the tiniest of little people. And it is true that I never got to know him.
And it is true that I spent every Holiday Season of my childhood waiting for phone calls that never came, parcels that were never delivered, and – at the core of it – an acknowledgement that I was loved and mattered that never was bestowed.
And, it IS TRUE, that many years later, just as I thought I was seeing my way to real happiness, my newborn daughter, Grace, died less than an hour after she was born prematurely.
It is true that that happened and that that made me very, very sad.
What ISN’T true is that every holiday season I need to bring that baggage out of storage and lament my laments in the most publically lamentatious (yes, I get to make up words) way possible.
This essay is about how to deal with loss during the holiday season. And my first suggestion is this:
Let Go of Your Story.
Let go of your attachment to your sorrow, even – nope, especially – if you are kinda sorta milking it to get attention and sympathy from others. (Sorry if that stings just a bit. We’re going for the bigger prize of Freedom here, and sometimes getting there is just a bit of an “ouch.”)
After you let go of your story, my second suggestion for dealing with loss at the holidays (or ANY time of year) is to mitigate your loss by making your experience useful to others.
This essay, for example, is one way that I do that. If I can help even one person relinquish her strangle-hold on her “right to be seen as being wronged,” then my own loss is mitigated.
Every time I use my own suffering to ease the suffering of others, I transmute some of my loss into goodness that radiates out into the world.
Remember, bitterness constricts. Forgiveness radiates. (click to tweet)
Finally, I mitigate my loss by INTENTIONALLY finding a way to remember those I have loved and lost in a way that brings joy to others.
Grace was my only daughter. Her three, stinky, back-talking brothers came later, and my holiday purchases are decidedly not that exciting for me. There’s no fluff or sparkle or pink or tea parties.
So, I decided to give that to myself – and one other little girl in need.
Every year, I take myself Christmas shopping (please translate to your own religious equivalent) for girly girl things and then I find a little girl in need and SECRETLY and ANONYMOUSLY give those things away.
Most of the time, I find that little girl through my sons’ former preschool.
By now, we have a routine. I always call and ask if they have a girl in need. They always do. I NEVER ask anything about her that would help me identify her. They tell me a few things about her personality and likes and such, so that I can make purchases that will make her happiest.
And then I drop the gifts off and visit with the staff who helped raise Grace’s little brothers all those years ago.
This was my 21st Christmas bringing Grace’s Christmas to some little girl who lives somewhere nearby. By now, those first girls are grown women. I imagine them out living their own beautiful lives, going to school, falling in love, making a life.
I imagine them doing all the things that Grace didn’t get to do. And I choose to feel happy that, in some small way, I may have brought one morning of hope to their little worlds.
The point of all this is this: We don’t get to choose most of what happens TO us. But we DO GET TO CHOOSE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!
I hope you’ll share some of your own Best Practices for dealing with loss (thus making “your story” useful and mitigating your own loss) in the comments below.
We get to choose whether our stories limit. Or liberate. (click to tweet)
In the spirit of all that is holy this holiday season, I choose liberation. And I wish for you every joyful freedom that you are willing to embrace within your own heart.
Please, pass that joyful freedom on!
Love, Love, Love – Jennifer (Grace’s Mom)
P.S.—AFTER I wrote this piece, I realized that today is my father’s birthday. Had he not died at the age of 34, he would have been 73. This essay is dedicated to the memory of Richard Arthur Boykin, and his only granddaughter, Grace. Blessed. Be.
Photo: Flickr, vramak