My last post was a great deal of sunshine and rainbows. I was definitely feeling that way when I wrote it. But I don’t feel that way every day during the holidays.
Like, for instance, this one.
This season can be hard for so many of us for so many reasons. Today, I’m thinking about Christmases when my four little ones were still wide-eyed believers in all the magic. When I’d shop for the perfect gifts, wrap them beautifully, and place them under the tree. When Santa would come on Christmas Eve and they’d stumble down the stairs in the early Christmas morning hours with bedhead and excitement to see what awaited them. When we’d load them up and drive to see their grandparents, their little noses red with cold and anticipation.
I’m thinking about how George would always help me build my famous book tree every year. He’d stand in the center of the books and make sure they were all evenly spaced. He’d make sure the acceptable titles faced outward and some of the dicier titles stayed in the back. He was meticulous and dedicated, and he was the secret to my tree success.
I’m thinking about one Christmas in particular when I planned a holiday trip to Disney that culminated on Christmas day. I shopped for and wrapped all the presents early and placed them under the tree when the kids were at school so they’d be there waiting—from Santa—when we returned home. I decorated the car with holiday lights and painted the windows with sayings like “Disney or Bust” and “Here We Come, Mickey,” packed the kids’ bags, made travel snacks, picked them up from school, and headed straight to the Happiest Place on Earth. The memory of their little faces lighting up like sunshine when they walked out of their schools, saw the decorated Suburban, and realized what was happening was pure magic.
It’s much quieter these days.
That happens, I’m sure, to all families when their kids grow up and move on. It’s not exclusive to those who have divorced, but divorce definitely complicates things. My kids will be with their dad this Christmas because he’s the one who can afford to help them travel. I’m glad they’ll all be together again, but my heart aches to see them, to hug them, to look up into the faces at the tops of their very tall bodies and remember when I carried them all in my belly, then in my arms.
It’s hard being without them.
It’s hard being without the Mom who loved me and my kids so well and so fully. It’s hard knowing we won’t receive funny little gifts that reminded her of us or that coincidentally bore our names (like the infamous turtle lantern whose name tag read “Gus”).
I’m thinking about all the Christmas Eves we spent with the Robaks, the warmth of their home, the presents under the tree, the abundance of cookies on the table, the smell of Ray’s pipe. That tradition ended long ago when our families grew too big to gather. And both Mom and Ray are no longer with us. But if I could go back, just for a moment, to one of those magic nights, to the feeling of staying up way past my bedtime to attend Midnight Mass, to the anticipation of Santa arriving so very soon…
It’s hard knowing my sister is no longer here to make teenage pizzas and prepare a ham and celebrate with her own family and friends.
It’s just hard.
It’s the way life goes, of course—kids grow and grandparents die and one generation replaces another—but that doesn’t make the passage of time and the loss of our loved ones any easier.
And during the holidays, it’s extra hard.
And if it’s hard for you, too, I think it’s okay to admit that. To feel that. To sit with it. To let it move through you.
Society says we should be jolly and happy and thankful and joy-filled during these days. Commercials tell us to feel the magic and the wonder. But we don’t all feel it. Some of us feel hollowed out. Some of us feel lonely. Some of us feel the weight of having a double-digit bank account or mounting credit card bills. Some of us watch cheesy holiday movies and feel that we’re not enough, that we don’t measure up.
Some of those people are me. Some might be you.
But the best I can do this season is to take one moment at a time. To savor a warm cup of coffee with peppermint mocha. To make a batch of cookies for a neighbor. To laugh during a game of pickleball. To snuggle with my pups. To switch on a strand of white lights and feel their soft glow. To sit in front of a campfire with friends on a cool night. To be grateful for one more day. And for the people who choose to share it with me. And for warm hands to hold.
To keep going.
I mean that for you, too, friend, even when the going is so tough. One foot in front of the other. We’ll get through this. Your hand in mine.
If the holidays aren’t happy for you, it’s okay to feel the sadness.
You’re not alone.
And as with all things, this, too, shall pass.