It’s been building for a few weeks now, and I didn’t even realize it. I have this intolerance for … a common holiday attitude, and suddenly the intolerance is smacking me in the face and begging to be shouted. And so—well, I’m going to blog it.
The Pet Peeve that I’ve suddenly discovered is the constant obsession—on the radio, in ads, by folks that we talk to—about the “stress” of the holidays. The “hustle-bustle.” The “Millions of things that have to get done.” Rather than a celebration of the holiday season I have encountered again and again a huge collective, “O Poor Me!” factor regarding all that must get done.
Holidays are hard when you’ve lost someone that you love. Remembering all the special things that the person did when preparing for the holidays. Reflecting on the holiday memories. The thoughts that come rushing in, uninvited, about missing that person. It’s all bitter sweet. It’s wonderful, because it keeps your loved one close, but it’s terrible because it causes the ache to swell again and again and again. Yes, I am missing my Mom this Christmas, even as I gleefully gear up for the festivities. Even as we do our holiday projects. And it is this missing, and the experience of the past few years of my world being turned on it’s head that gives me this intolerance. This I know.
I would be lying if I told you that I haven’t felt some anxiety and tension over the “gotta get it done” factor of Christmas. I have. We’ve worried that the humble offerings we’re giving to our friends and extended family won’t seem like enough to them, since we’ve tried to scale back spending by focusing mainly (and as cost-efficiently as possible) on our small family unit. I’ve fussed over recipes, and worried over presents getting here in time. I have. I am not immune, despite the words I am about to write.
But the “stress” of this Christmas is nothing like the “Stress” of the last two. The last two Christmases were the hardest, darkest, scariest that I have known. The last two Christmases the stress that I felt was real—and beyond my control. It was so much more than being exhausted by my choice to take part in “the hustle and bustle.”
Two years ago, my Mother had just been diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. We were still trying to wrap our brains around the diagnosis. I was scared to death. I wasn’t sure where to be. It was my first Christmas to have my husband home with me, and it was the Christmas sitting in front of a year when my husband would be gone on short detachments the majority of the time before his eventual deployment. We weren’t sure if he would be home for the birth of Little Miss. We also weren’t sure if Mom would be around for the birth of Little Miss, and then if she was how much time they (and we) might have together. There was uncertainty everywhere. And at times the world seemed like a very dark place.
Last Christmas was the first after my Mom died. It was very, very hard. I hurt over the things that we “always did” that we couldn’t do that year. I didn’t know how I would get through Christmas Eve without doing the special things I always did with her. I couldn’t imagine Christmas morning without her at the table of her and Dad’s house. My husband was in Iraq and I missed him so terribly—especially while in the midst of the grief stuff—that I didn’t know what to do with myself. And just when we thought that things couldn’t get any worse, Husband’s grandfather became very, very ill and the words, “They’re going to make him comfortable,” were used. Husband’s family and I quickly mobilized and I found myself visiting again at the deathbed of a family member that we loved very, very much. I put in the Red Cross call to my husband, and while we had decent communication so I was assured he knew what was going on, the official message took nearly a week to reach my husband’s superiors. There was talk of him taking a whirl-wind trip home to hopefully be with his grandpa, but he didn’t have the leave time to cover it. Working through those logistics in the midst of the situation—the grieving, the aching, the hurting. That was stress. Husband wasn’t able to come home, and wouldn’t have been back in time anyway. Grandpa died three days before Christmas. His funeral was on Christmas Eve. My heart was as heavy as a rock. The grief and the pain and the hurt and the missing seemed to consume me. There didn’t seem to be any light anywhere.
But. I knew better. Because you see, that Christmas after Mom got sick I heard the message over and over and over again that Christmas isn’t about hype. It’s about a light in the darkness (faithful blog-readers. you knew it was coming sometime, didn’t you?). And I have to tell you, I grabbed onto the hope of that light with everything in me and didn’t let go and I’m convinced that’s the reason I made it through both years. And I DID find light. I found it in the strength that wasn’t my own that allowed me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I found it in the smile and giggle of my beautiful daughter. I found it in the courage and strength and shared hurt of my husband’s voice on a phone-line connecting us while a world apart. I found it in the comfort and love that I found in being with Husband’s family on that whirlwind trip to be with Grandpa and to attend his services. I found it in my Daddy graciously “pushing back” Christmas so that we could celebrate it together after we’d returned back to his home. And, I found it where it was found 2000 years ago, “in the squatty, dark light of a stable.” In the form of a baby that was born to save the world. including me.
And so. Well. When I hear about the stress. About the hustle and bustle. About how terrible it is that people have to spend time buying presents and writing cards and baking things and visiting people, I just want to SCREAM: “Don’t you get it?!!! This isn’t what this season is about!!! This is about time with our families! This is about taking time to be together! To hold hands! To take joy in the presence of our loved ones. Because not a single one of us is guaranteed another Christmas!
I want to shout, “Get your priorities straight! If the ribbons and bows and cookies and candy recipes that don’t get to ‘soft ball’ stage are going to give you such an ulcer, throw them out the window and find the real joy of the season.” Of being with people that you love, and realizing what the point of the holidays really are: Light in a dark world!
I would take the “stress” of this holiday season—the financial worries, the putting together of our holiday offerings, the worrying over getting everything done—five times over before I would want to relive the past two Christmases. And yet those Christmases contained light too. And I look back to that light and find strength in it.
So that is my holiday diatribe. And the bottom line. The point that I’m trying to make is: Don’t get so caught up in the hustle that you miss the miracles. Don’t get so caught up in the bustle that you forget about people who are suffering through their hardest Christmases ever. And feeling so alone in that.
Remember the light in the darkness. Hold onto it, and offer it to someone who might feel that the darkness is winning this year. And: Look around at the people that you love. Drink them in. Make the memories. Cherish them.
Make the choice to slow down and refuse to become part of the rush. It *IS* a choice. When the world stops because of something awful those things fade into the background and you find out how unnecessary they really can be.
Remember the point of Christmas and the Holidays. Look for the light and love one another.