The last time I saw my sister was on Christmas Eve. We were fighting, and I was in tears, as my dad tried to snap a family shot of his three girls. My sisters are twins, extroverts and eight years older than me –> a natural clash for an introverted younger sister. Holidays always seemed to have a high-level of drama involved when our very different personalities were in the same room. That particular Christmas I was upset because I had just graduated from college and was so excited to talk about it around the dinner table. Instead, I was cut-off and moved to the back burner when my sisters started sparring about politics and other more sexy topics. I felt alone, and angry my momentous occasion was, as always, being overshadowed by the power of my twin sisters.
The next morning I was supposed to meet my sister and her husband for breakfast. I refused, not wanting to face the person that had been part of wrecking my Christmas Eve as a new college grad. Little did I know that six months later, on a random night in July, my sister would take her own life.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself in an abusive marriage. As many of the big events in life don’t, the timing of my need to leave the situation had little regard for the fact that it was just a few days before Christmas. Even though it was a blessing to leave, the shock and horror of the previous months made it a very tumultuous holiday season. I signed papers on Christmas Eve, I filled out all of my divorce papers near New Year’s and mailed them close to my birthday. Basically, my holidays were wiped out.
Point? The holidays come and go every year with no regard to the events happening in our lives. They don’t see that we are in a horrific situation and say, “I’m going to wait until things calm down and she’s happy again before I light the Christmas tree this year.” They don’t realize we just lost a loved one and press pause on the holiday carols. They don’t understand that “Auld Lang Syne” reminds us of a love past, rather than a happy future. The fact of the matter is, they are immune to what we are going through, and barrel through our lives with their cliches and memories whether we are ready for them or not.
So, does that mean we need to grin and bare it and fake smile for every photo taken of us at every holiday party? No. Does it mean we have to keep mum about tragic events that haunt us particularly during the holidays? No. However, it also doesn’t mean that we get to play the Grinch every holiday season and close ourselves off to the miracles that so effortlessly present themselves during this magical time of year. There is a balance, and here’s how you get there:
Own Your Story
Don’t hide the fact that the holidays present some challenges for you. Own what happened to you, and be proud that you made it through to see another holiday season. The year after my holiday divorce, the number one thing that got me through the holidays was realizing how happy I was that I was not filling out divorce papers that holiday season. I could go where I wanted, see who I wanted, and embrace the new love in my life.
Feel Your Emotions
The holidays present a roller coaster of emotions, and you need to FEEL each and every one of those emotions. The more you try to hide the fact that you’re sad because a certain song came on, the more sad you will feel throughout the day. Let yourself be sad, mad, happy. Live your emotions, and let them pass.
Switch It Up
If nostalgia is something keeping you up at night during the holidays, switch the channel! Find new ways to ring in the holidays, visit spots you’ve never been to before, write cards to people you usually don’t write Christmas cards for. Get yourself out of your rut and find new, unscratched ways to celebrate.
Give, Give, Give
The best way to distract yourself from gloom is to help others. Find ways that you can dedicate your free time to assisting those in your community during the holiday season. The more time you have wrapped up in giving back, the less time you will have to feel sorry for yourself.
Prayer is such a incredible tool for me during the holidays. The closer I get to God, the further away I get from remembering the lost opportunity to see my sister for the last time, or letting scars from a holiday divorce impact how I view Christmas, New Year’s and my birthday. Allow God inside of you, allow him to walk with you through the holiday season as you celebrate the best gift He ever gave to you.
This is critical in order to appreciate the holidays. You absolutely have to accept whatever happened to originally make the holidays a little less bright for you. My greatest struggle with acceptance was not going to that breakfast to see my sister. When someone passes away, there is this immediate flashback to the last time you saw them. The fact that I was in tears and mad at her haunted me for quite some time. However, over the years, it’s something I have come to accept. I was living in the moment that Christmas Eve, and I was mad at her, and if I had to do it all over again, I would still be mad at her on that Christmas Eve in that moment. All I had to go on was what was happening then, and that’s what I made my decisions off of.
Live For Others
This one is helpful if you are dealing with the loss of a loved one. The only way I could cope with my best friend’s suicide when I was 15 was to believe that I was living each moment for him, because he could never live that moment. He would never be able to go to our prom, or go to college or choose a career. Now, when I get overwhelmed with making big decisions, I think of him, and the fact that at least I still have the choice to make those decisions.
I think of this concept now during the holidays for my sister. She does not get to spend Christmas with my family in the same way anymore, but I do. Each moment is a little sweeter, a little more important a little more savored, because I now realize the value of it.
It’s okay to not have the instant holiday cheer that is flashed on every commercial during the holidays. In reality, we are all dealing with our own share of tragedy that is only magnified during the holiday season. Try to embrace what’s happened to you in your past, or even what you are going through now. Own it, and then move through it with grace and optimism that there is a reason you are on this journey that is bigger than yourself.
Happy Holidays to all of you who I am so grateful for! – Marji J. Sherman