Holiday Lights

I’ve been feeling all blurry and jagged edges lately, even on the heels of our nation’s most thankful day. The truth is, sometimes the holidays challenge me. All the brightly colored bows and the cheer and the consumerism are co-conspirators in a general ache that works its way into my soul. The juxtaposition of the over-the-top excess versus the never-quite-enough. (Think that horrible Kardashian card next to the collection bins for Wal-Mart employees who cannot make ends meet on their meager wages.) The sadness wrapped up in the celebration; the underlying knowledge that not everyone welcomes the holidays with open arms. Especially now, when one of my dearest friends — along with her closest community — is mired in a shared pain that cannot be fixed or soothed or remedied or revoked.

For most of my life, I’ve battled depression — with pills, with food, with tears, with the fetal position, with all available vices. I’ve always felt things deeply, all the way to the bottom of the well. I cried during every childhood episode of “Little House on the Prairie,” at every Hallmark commercial. I cry when I listen to sappy love songs, when I watch movies, when I read, when I sing, when I talk with my friends. It amuses my children to no end to watch me tear up at dolphin shows and band concerts and Broadway musicals. The vast ocean of my emotions is both my blessing and my curse.

For many years, I tried to hide it, to disguise it with a bright red bow and a ready smile. It was embarrassing to be the crybaby. I wanted to be tough and invincible and ready to kick the collective ass of the world. But I embrace my soft now. It is who I am. When you see me sobbing in my kitchen, when you hear my shaky voice on the other end of the phone line, 99 times out of 100, there is no need for alarm. Heavy emotion is how I process all the feelings this world offers up — the happy, the sad, the in-between. I don’t always know what to say to you in times of distress, but I always know how to feel with you, to help carry your pain in my own heart.

The truth underneath the twinkling lights and the joyous carols is that life is hard. For every single one of us. Fathers leave when we want them to stay, adults hurt children because they can, financial instability crushes us, beloved pets cross over, humans shame and judge one another, misunderstandings build walls, planes fall from the sky, friendships end, lovers leave, cancer spreads, hearts stop beating. I once believed in the notion that we create absolutely everything that comes into our lives. Now I call bullshit. To say that we create our own pain and devastation is akin to saying hurricane victims were thinking hurricane thoughts and AIDS-riddled children asked for their bodies to die a slow and painful death.

What happens is this: Life. Life happens to us all. Sometimes it is breathtaking and beautiful and full of promise and wonder and magic. Sometimes it breaks us into a million little pieces. Often, when we are on our knees begging for mercy, it kicks again. And then once more. To deny this common human experience to those enduring it is to inflict double the pain. We all suffer. And just because my trials and tribulations are not the same as yours, neither of our hurts should be diminished. Suffering is not an “I win” kind of game.

What the heartache and loss does offer is an eventual opportunity — the chance to figure out how to put ourselves back together again, how to raise our phoenix from the ashes, how to assemble the fragments into a workable whole to create something new and sustainable and even more beautiful. I’m not advocating sitting in our sadness, but ultimately, the only way out is through, no matter how long and arduous the journey. That is where the choosing occurs.

I remember when Gus was in the hospital, when every day was another vast unknown. Would today be the day he left us? Would today be the day he chose to stay? We did not — could not — know. Instead, we stood as sentinels beside our boy, willing him to live, wrapping him in our love and often, in our tears. One day, my sweet cousin came to visit, as many friends and family did. She stood beside us — her belly huge with her own soon-to-be-born — looking at our baby’s broken body, listening to the machines beeping life into his damaged lungs. She cried with us that day. And she hugged me through her tears and said simply, because there was nothing more to say, “I’m so sorry. This sucks.” And it did suck, in every possible way. There was a sacredness in the simplicity of her words. An acknowledgment of all the horrible that permeated every second of our lives during those five grueling weeks.

Sometimes, acknowledgment is all we can offer, and conversely, sometimes all that we need.

So, in this season of love and happiness and joy, I acknowledge that for some of us, it is not all celebration and light. And although I cannot take away the hurt that you must endure, the trials that you have been given, I can stand beside you. And if there is comfort in knowing your pain is seen — if there is a semblance of lightness in your heavy because someone else bears even a sliver of your burden — please know that I share it. Yours, mine, his, hers, theirs… I feel it all.

It is both my blessing and my curse.

But mostly, my blessing.

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29 Responses

  1. “Sometimes acknowledgement is all we can offer…” It’s like you laid out my entire philosophy on life on your page, only much more eloquently than I ever could have.
    I felt “you” on the page, but I felt as if you had written just for me. Goodness you have an amazing gift.
    Your written word is a healing balm.
    Thank you.

  2. Thanks, K! Yes, a great balm of words!
    I would add crying while watching Roots to your list…am I right? And I thought I was the only one who cried at band concerts…wow.
    “The only way out is through.” you say. My favorite Bruce Cockburn song tells that “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight. Gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.” Your way of saying it is much shorter. I love it. Lastly, your writing is a damn good reminder that, as parents, we need to let our children cry, cry with them, and never say, “Don’t cry, it’s okay, honey.” because it is NOT okay or else they wouldn’t be crying. I’m thankful for you, so thankful!

    1. I don’t know that Bruce Cockburn song, but I love the lyric. And yes, I agree with letting our kids see us cry. Emotion is part of our lives — I think it’s a travesty to pretend it’s not. My kids have certainly seen their share of Mama-tears. It’s great entertainment for them during these snarky teen/tween years, but I know someday they’ll look back and appreciate that our household ran the full gamut of emotions. XO

  3. Once again, I am stunned. You write what’s in my own heart.

    Have been crying all morning. I don’t think there is a day that goes by anymore that I don’t at least get teary eyed. And I think Christmas is worse. I seem to cry a bit more readily. This is not my favorite time of year. And I somehow feel “less than” because I don’t receive the same joy and excitement so many of my loved ones seem to.

    Acknowledgment and acceptance…It’s OK to not be “in love” with Christmas. I need that.

    1. Amen sister. Xmas has become a lot of expectation and pressure to be and look like the GD fake people on TV commercials and DIY shows. I’m TRYING to remember that what it really is about is LOVE.

    2. I think many do, Beth. And I think too few are willing to talk about it. Perhaps people feel like our unintended “Scrooge-ness” is a downer, but I think masking feelings and pretending everything is okay is just plain dangerous. 98% of the time, I try to choose happy, but sometimes, we need to experience the sad, too — fully and completely. XO

  4. I’m sorry for your pain. I stand beside you in it and bring some of my own to share. For the record, I cry, too, about everything. I stopped pushing back. Now, I just let it flow. I akin my tears to windshield washer fluid in my car. My tears are necessary to wash away the crud that is stuck in my mind from life’s challenges.

  5. So you got me again. I’m crying to the point that I need a tissue. I love this time of year, but always fall short of my expectations–a whole different story all together. I too feel too much, too deeply all the time it seems. The reference to Little House made me remember. I would watch it with my back against this huge stereo we had so that no one could see me cry, which inevitably would happen. So many things to say, but no words to properly express–so I give you some of my tears instead today. Blessings.

  6. WOW! I have always called it wearing my heart on my sleeve, but YOU have taken all of the wrinkles out of understanding what it is that makes us different. Katrina, you are an amazing writer!

  7. I purposefully choose not to read anyones’ comments yet. I needed to share my own heart with you first…ok, so i have tears streamming down my own face in just reading what you wrote. I am with you–a crybaby. I would rather sit right beside you and feel your pain in my heart. I love you Katrina girl. I love how gifted you are in your writing and that you choose to be so vulnerable with all of us!! I get your every thought of this season. When there is grief involved during this time of year–it seems to be the huge crashing wave that hits me even as i decorate the tree with ornaments of the past. CRAZY but i want to embrace it all–the tears, the happy moments, the songs, the sappy movies–pure yummy to me!!
    Merry Christmas–love you
    PS–now, i will read what the other sisters have shared!!

  8. Hey Katrina…as usual this brings me to tears…we are the same that way. Sometimes I think my family must think I am crazy when I cry during sappy commercials…it is just my heart. That is how I process. Now at nearly 50…finally feeling like it is ok to just embrace it. Today I am going down to Riley to just sit with a family I am aware of that is going through a tough time with their child. Nope, I don’t have answers…I can’t fix it…but just for a little while I can walk with them in their journey, cry with them, pray with them, let them know they surely are not alone. It was the biggest balm to us during our season with Josiah…those who would just be with us in the moment, not feel like they had to put some easy answer on our situation…just sit with us….
    Thanks for being transparent and so authentic. Much love to you and yours at Christmas and always.

    1. You are one of the kindest souls I know. That Riley family is so blessed to have you with them. There is such comfort in the sacred sharing of space and time — especially when words are inadequate. May all the love you give so freely to others return to you a thousand times!

  9. Awwwwww! I want to fly up there right now and give you a GREAT BIG HUG and cry with you. Yup, I’m big crier too…not in the town crier way either. Commercials? All it takes is the plaintiff sound of stringed instruments and the waterworks are running. That may actually be why I refuse to have cable TV. I admit to turning down the sound on commercials, back in the day when I still had TV, back when there was no such thing as DVR, in part to avoid the potential for tear jerking. So yeah, I think it’s about being women and being hyper empathetic – must be a connection between empathy and that second X chromosome. And empathy? It’s definitely all blessing and no curse. Sending you love, hugs and happiness in the holidays and always.

  10. I got chills when I read this…then I cried. It touches the most sensitive part of my heart and being. We don’t know each other, but we are such similar creatures. I found solace in your words, and for that I am grateful. You are amazing Katrina. I hope you have a lovely holiday season.

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