This is my first article in a little while, as I allowed my life to be derailed by chaos and catastrophe created by things out of my control. Having had some time to reflect, ponder (cry), and put things back together again in time for Christmas, I have something I’d like to share with all of you.
Over the years, the holidays have brought us all great joy, but also, for some, great sadness. My own Grandfather died on Christmas day one year; my cousin, who was born on Christmas day, causes me pause every year at this time now, because she passed away suddenly a week before her graduation from University. And though it’s not connected to the holidays, I think of all the loved ones I’ve lost in general at this time of year. In particular, these days, I mourn the son I lost when he inexplicably ostracized our family several years ago, including my innocent and confused younger sons (one of whom cries inconsolably at the loss of his older brother every Christmas when we put up the tree, and often when we open presents).
Remembering a cousin who should be a year older than me now, but who died in a tragic motorcycle accident in his twenties, and, of course, remembering my dear father.
I’ve read many articles that talk about how loss is blown out of proportion at this time of year, because we are, by nature, more sentimental through the holidays. I’ve also read articles that tell us to focus on the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But the fact of the matter is, Christmas, at least for me, was one of the few times each year that I could see all of my family on my mother’s side. Because they lived so far away, sometimes we had ‘our’ Christmas early – I still remember my usually stoic Dad slamming the front door after bellowing out ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!’ And then we’d go stateside, to visit all my American Aunts and Uncles, and all of my cousins, as well as my Grandparents. They lived about 8-9 hours away, and while it was a long drive, I can tell you that the trip to visit them was such an exciting day for us. Memories of the trip up, Christmas carols played on the radio, my Dad slowly accelerating above the speed limit whenever my Mom fell asleep. Our family dog raising her head and sitting up as we exited the expressway, to sniff the air coming in from the vents because she knew we were there. New York pizza waiting for us when we arrived, close to midnight. Sleeping on a loveseat in the living room of my Grandparent’s house until I was too big, then sharing a bunk bed with my brother, and finally sharing a double bed with my sister after my Great-Grandparents passed away, leaving the room open for new guests.
This was Christmas for me. Later, I carried on a lot of those traditions that we had; the type of food we ate, the buzz and chaos in my Grandmother’s Italian kitchen moved into mine. Born of my childhood Christmases, and incorporated into our growing family, we celebrate those traditions still, including the Asti (a sweet, bubbly wine) for Christmas and New Year’s. So many memories; so much love. But also so much sadness.
Christmas Eve dropping my husband off to fly overseas for a military mission at two in the morning. One Christmas, two years ago now, when I received a wonderful gift from my husband – he returned home from his deployment to Israel to surprise us for Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and boxing day, and presented me with a document, explaining that I was the ‘recipient’ of an all-expenses paid trip to Israel to visit him in February for fun, sun, and relaxation. I could never have known that upon arrival in our hotel room in Israel, the Holy Land, that he would drop the bomb that changed my life – he wanted a divorce.
Most recently, my best friend lost her mother this year on Christmas Day.
I’ve heard a lot of people telling me to move on. To focus on the holiday. But what is the holiday, really? For Christians, it’s celebrating the birth of Christ. But how many Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, and other Christians focus as much attention on Jesus’ birth as they do on decorating, parties, Santa Claus, and the other pagan traditions of Christmas? Like it or not, the two have become intertwined, just as our joys and sorrows have become intertwined with the holidays. Our traditions are made of these. Our losses during this time of year. The fond memories of Christmases spent with loved ones who have passed on. Life-changing events.
So why is it so much worse during the holidays? Because our memories are sacred. The time of year that we all have so many wonderful memories of being with family, like an oxymoron, anything tragic that strikes during the holidays is bound to bring a lump to our throats and make us that much more nostalgic.
Yes, a lot of people have told me to move on, surround myself with my loved ones, focus on celebrating Christ’s birth.
But I never stopped doing that. My kids never saw a Christmas without a tree we’ve cut down together and decorated with Christmas music serenading us in the background. They haven’t seen a Christmas without a full Christmas dinner, homemade gingerbread houses, home baking, and regular attendance at mass as usual to celebrate the birth of Christ (however wrong the actual date may be). They’ve never seen a New Year’s eve without too much food, a little craziness, noisemakers galore, and the ball dropping at midnight. No holiday goes by without burning a candle for all the loved ones we’ve lost. So that advice is lost on me. Yes, I certainly get nostalgic and sad, missing what was my family, as a whole, until two years ago on that fateful Christmas Day when my husband presented me with a pre-planned end to life as I knew it. (yes, it WAS pre-planned). So what good is that advice to me?
The best advice I’ve gotten was from my mother. She said, make new traditions. Remember all the joyous days gone by, and celebrate the lives of everyone who has left us. But make new traditions.
For me, it’s like the saying goes: “Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” I would rather have all of those good memories that I miss and mourn sometimes, than not to have them at all. And better still, I get to make new memories. For my kids, and for myself, and maybe someday, for my grandkids. The holidays will always be a little bitter if they’re tainted by loss; it’s human nature to mourn most at the time we lost what we loved. But my mother’s wise words will always resonate with me, until the last Christmas I celebrate with my family.
Traditions are plastic, as is Christmas. With time, births, deaths, and kids growing up and starting their own families, those traditions will be molded into something different, and will never stay the same. Celebrate the past, but mourn it as well. Live in the present, be ready for the future, and recognize that while time heals all wounds, they can still leave scars, and that’s OK.
Photo: Getty Images