Last year, I wrote about how to survive the holidays when your Christmas is not so holly or jolly. So I decided to revisit those tips and add a few thoughts.
I still dread the Christmas holidays. But this year (thankfully) has been easier.
My father died five days after Christmas and 2014 will make it 11 years since his passing. Some years are easier to handle than others, with 2013 having been pretty bad. I never know what each one will be like until it arrives.
Christmas is especially hard because Dad loved Christmas. He liked to put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving. He loved Christmas music. He was the narrator in some of our church’s Christmas productions. For a man who could be rather serious, Christmas turned him into a joyful, lighthearted person.
Last year re-emphasized to me that I’m not the only one who misses a loved one during the holidays. Here are a few tips that continue to help me get through it.
1. It’s Okay to Dread Christmas.
As a person of deep faith, admitting that I struggle with feeling happy about the biggest Christian celebration of the year is difficult. In theory, it makes no sense to feel sad. Why can’t I put my grief aside and celebrate that God came to the world in the form of a baby to show us His love? But I just can’t do that some days. That’s a reality that I am okay with and I don’t feel guilty about it.
Even if you’re not religious, give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling. If your friends or family don’t get it, that’s their problem. But you might be surprised at how understanding some people can be. Because maybe they’re hurting, too.
Being truthful about your emotions enables you to be real and not hide behind some happy mask, which is exhausting.
2. It’s Okay to Cry in Your Cocoa.
This year, it happened when we were putting up the decorations. With holiday music in the background, I unwrapped the little glass Christmas tree I had given my Dad many years ago. I only bring it out in December. I couldn’t stop the tears.
My husband came into the room and just stood behind me, letting me lean on him. I still mourn the fact that Christmas isn’t the same without Dad. You would think with time that this feeling would change, but it hasn’t. But it’s a release I need to express the emotions I can’t handle.
Crying is not a sign of weakness. It takes courage to admit you are dealing with deep personal pain. Your tears mean you feel something deeply and by letting those emotions flow out, you can find some relief.
A little more water in the hot cocoa is okay. It won’t hurt the marshmallows.
3. It’s Okay to Be a Hermit Until January.
During the holidays, you have to do what you have to do to survive. If not attending a holiday party or foregoing watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas on TV helps, then that’s what you do. It’s never been a favorite of mine.
If it means having an extra piece of peppermint bark, nobody is going to judge you. And if they do, offer them a piece. If you’d rather listen to the Commodores (“Brickhouse” is my favorite.) instead of 24 hours of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”, that is also peachy. I always change the channel when it comes on anyway.
Getting through December may involve going into hermit mode for a little while, but that’s alright. Don’t feel guilty and pretend to feel a joy you don’t.
4. It’s Okay to Get Angry.
Amid the tears, anger can boil and bubble to the surface. I still get mad at God for taking my father at the age of 65. I’m frustrated that he’s not here to take my son to visit the mall Santa or sing Christmas carols. Dad would have loved having a grandson and the reality that he never got to meet him is frustrating.
It’s true that I’m blessed that I had my father as long as I did. But that doesn’t make me any less angry.
Don’t deny that anger. Stuffing it down inside just makes it worse. Acknowledging your frustration is the first step in making peace with it. If you like to exercise, working out can burn off some of that steam, too. Heck, it can burn off the calories from all that peppermint bark you ate!
Or yell at God if you want to. I have. And I know He can take it.
5. It’s Okay to Break Into Laughter.
When I was young, we had a rather bizarre Christmas tree stand that Dad had fashioned out of an old tether ball tire and a holder he wedged into the center of it. Regardless of whether or not we got a real tree or used a fake, shoving a tree into that stand was a challenge. I would sneak out of the room during this time while the stream of Yosemite Sam-like swearing (not always rated PG) took place. It still makes me laugh thinking about it.
Dad was also nuts for the movie A Christmas Story, a slice of his childhood served up on celluloid. Remembering his guffaw at the father’s (Darren McGavin) angry attempts to get the furnace to work or his pride in receiving his “major award” in the form of a naughty leg lamp are memories I treasure. Watching that movie makes me feel close to Dad again, if only for a few hours.
Laughing while you’re crying is fine, too. Sometimes you can’t have one without the other.
6. It’s Okay to Live in the Moment.
Thinking of December as one long desert of misery may turn it into just that. Instead, I try to live hour by hour, day by day, with no expectations. It’s much less exhausting.
Some of it’s going to just stink, so I work on being a little spontaneous. Breaking out into “Holly Jolly Christmas” with my fake Burl Ives accent is funny to me (I try not to do this in public). So is greedily biting the head off a gingerbread man. Or watching Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut for the hundredth time. Who wouldn’t swoon with handsome Dennis Morgan as a sailor on holiday leave?
By living in the moment, you celebrate life for what it is. A weird but fascinating mess of unique experiences and emotions. Yes, there can be flashes of joy amid the moments of grief.
I hope this helps, it’s all I’ve got.
Merry Christmas, Daddy. And yes, I still miss you.