Navigating Loss and Change During Christmas: A Personal Reflection on the Holiday Season
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
Until it’s not.
But my favorite holiday song blares on overhead anyway as shoppers make their way through crowded aisles, searching for the perfect gift for their loved ones. Kids in shopping carts stare bright-eyed at the toys on the shelves. Checkout lines continue to grow along with my irritation and frustration. And if one more person asks the cashier about a ten percent off coupon, I vow to put this item back and walk out.
But I suck it up because there's an awesome sale and I can’t pass up the opportunity to buy a cute outfit for my niece.
I take an internal deep breath and wait for my turn to check out. The people in front of me have a cart brimming with clothes, toys and gifts. The song changes to another holiday favorite, and my eyes begin to water without my permission.
Yup, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
And frankly, I don’t like it.
Christmas in the Mims household was a pretty big deal every year. The holiday festivities, which began right after Thanksgiving, consisted of my family picking out a Christmas tree and decorating it together, while drinking eggnog and listening to Christmas music. My siblings and I wrote our letters to Santa and stayed on our best behavior. We baked cookies with mom on Christmas Eve and left them out on the table with a glass of warm milk for Santa - a.k.a. my dad. I barely slept on Christmas Eve, listening anxiously for sounds of rustling paper, footsteps or any other indication that Santa was delivering our presents. At the crack of dawn, my brother, sister and I bolted downstairs and made a dash into our living room, which resembled a toy store bedazzled in Christmas lights. Eventually, my mom would put on her favorite Christmas tunes and prepare holiday dinner, while my dad pulled out the camcorder to record our family video.
And even when I finally realized that Santa was actually my parents wrapping our gifts in the wee hours of the morning, some of the childhood magic of Christmas had changed, but it was still very much a magical time. We may have stopped baking cookies for my dad, but we still cherished and celebrated the essence of the holiday, which was the birth of Christ and creating memories as a family.
The time I tried to skip Christmas
It’s a serious struggle to deal with a new reality when you crave the life you had before the new normal showed up on your doorstep uninvited and unannounced. And if you’re dealing with loss and grief of any kind, the holidays are a reminder that life will never be the same.
Christmas was my mom’s favorite holiday. Hands down. She loved everything about the holiday season, from spending time with family, to celebrating the birth of Christ and giving gifts. As much as I loved Christmas growing up, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the holiday last year after she passed.
With the exception of a company holiday party, I avoided everything about Christmas in 2015 as much as possible (it’s really easy to do the bare minimum for the holiday season when you don’t have children). If a Christmas song came on the radio, I turned it off. When a holiday movie came on TV, I turned the channel - including the same cheesy, cute romantic Christmas movies on Lifetime I looked forward to watching with my mom every year. I dreaded making my way through the sea of shoppers, so I avoided the stores like a plague (thank God for Amazon Prime!). My favorite holiday since childhood had turned into a time of anxiety, sorrow, loneliness - emotions I had never associated with the season before. I just wanted to get it over with. But after a while, I knew I couldn't avoid it totally and I wanted to get through it with my family. And I did.
Reflections of a new season
The holiday season becomes one of the hardest times of the year for those enduring the loss of a loved one or facing life challenges. It’s hard to fully understand how difficult this time of the year is for people until you are on the other side. It’s important to remember to be kind during this season because you never know what someone else is going through.
If you are on the other side and struggling during this time of the year with any form of adversity, remember you are not alone. I’m still crawling my way through this second time around, but coping strategies, such as praying, journaling and writing, help me get by. I joined a grief recovery support group last year to help me navigate through my first Christmas after loss and found it extremely helpful around the holidays. I’ve become intentional about who I spend my time with during this season. I make time to do things I enjoy, whether it’s reading or watching a comedy (some days laughter is really needed!). And I take care of myself and carve out lots of “me” time, whether it's binge watching a show on Netflix or enjoying my favorite latte at a local coffee shop.
Honestly, I'm not sure if I will ever feel the same about the holidays again, especially Christmas in particular. But throughout this holiday season, I've discovered that joy and sorrow can coexist. I was actually able to watch a Lifetime Christmas movie. I volunteered with friends to adopt a family for Christmas. And despite my dislike for large crowds and shopping malls around this time of the year, I actually went to a couple of stores.
Most importantly, I am in a different place spiritually this year as I've learned to lean on God more during this time. My anger is gone. I feel His peace during the difficult moments and His comfort when I need it most.
I look forward to spending the Christmas holiday with my family this year. We will continue to create new traditions - like moving the festivities to my sister's house - and maintain some of our old family rituals, including some of mom’s favorites. She’d want us to celebrate and embrace the things that truly matter about the season - Christ, family, being kind to others and spreading good cheer. Although it’s a difficult time, I find myself rediscovering the joy of Christmas when I reflect on my favorite holiday memories. These magical moments linger on, and I continue to carry them with me.
What are some of you favorite magical holiday moments?
Self care tips for the holiday season and beyond:
- Be kind to yourself
- Seek out help when needed
- Cry when you need to
- Laugh when you need to
- Don’t place other people's expectations on yourself
- Find time to do what you enjoy
- Identify your support system
- Know your limitations