Coping with the Holidays

My beloved Granny died on Christmas day many years ago. I remember going to the hospital in the morning, as we were visiting Al’s family later than afternoon. I walked into her room and she wasn’t there. I’d seen the flowers I’d sent out at the nurse’s station, so I had a foreboding feeling, but not trusting my intuition I asked a nurse if she’d gone for tests. Although there were no more tests and we all knew it. Granny was DNR and under hospice care.

Driving home, I wondered why I hadn’t gotten a call from my mom. I told Al I couldn’t face a party and he stayed home with me. We tried calling everyone in my family but nobody was answering phones. We went to my grandparents’ home, where there had been so many wonderful Christmases, and my grandfather answered the door. He looked dazed but stoic. Before we left that day, I had a much better understanding of how far his dementia had gone. Granny had kept that to herself.

Since then Christmas has been hit or miss for me. Some years it’s wonderful and some years it sucks. This year it was more better than bad. I saw all my grandchildren. I saw my kids and my folks. I had trees in Florida and Michigan and Al was with me. He’s had most of the month off, saving all year to have this vacation time together with family. I could not have done any of it without him. My anxiety for whatever reason goes into hyper mode during the holidays. As much as I love them, I can’t navigate them alone near as well as I can with Al handling the tough stuff.

I’m blessed and I know it. But I’ve had awful Christmases alone and with others so I think about those people who may not be doing so great, for whatever reason, this season. I can’t speak to the horror so much of the world has to cope with right now, I can only tell you how I lightened a dreary mood upon my return from Florida. This is something anyone who has a tree, holiday decorations, and ornaments can do. It really helped me and maybe, when you start taking down your wreaths and angels and candles, it will help you too.

A few years ago there was a wildly popular book about the magic of tidying up. That might have been the title. I didn’t read it but I heard about the premise: take each item you own and hold it while feeling the emotion it evokes. Does it bring you joy? Is it useful? Keep it. If it doesn’t, donate it. I did that in a small way with my tree ornaments this year. We didn’t have any on the one in Florida, just lights. Then the kids came and we got two very special ones. I decided I wanted every ornament that went on my tree to give me joy. (Much easier than doing with every possession you own!)

So over the course of two days I whittled my 300 ornaments down to less than a hundred. What I found was that joy didn’t come from expensive ornaments. They didn’t have to be shiny or beautiful. Joy came from remembering who had given me the gift. My granny gave me an ornament one year when I first started teaching. When I held it, just as I held the ornaments from my children and grandchildren, I felt joy.

I donated the rest of the ornaments to Salvation Army in the hope that someone will find joy in all the dazzle that just didn’t spark for me anymore. And that’s my recipe for a little Christmas magic. It doesn’t work half as well if you just put the joyless ornaments in the basement. You need to give them away. Only then will your joy be complete. Until the next disaster. We all have them. But this year, I hope your burdens are light and your joy shines.

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