One year ago, I’m in my childhood home celebrating thanksgiving far away from the imminent Chicago winter. Everywhere I look, I see “holiday cheer.” I can’t hide from it. And normally, I don’t want to. As a self-described Lover of All Things Elf Culture, I live for the magic of the holiday season. Normally, the second Halloween is over, everything I touch turns to candy canes and Christmas tree shaped Reese’s cups, and I can’t stop singing my favorite Christmas songs. Normally, the holidays are full of all the usual sentiments: cheer and joy, peace and happiness. And normally, these sentiments make sense.
Yet, last year, the holidays weren’t “normal.” Just a few weeks before thanksgiving, my dad died unexpectedly.
And so the holidays arrive, and my mom, little sister, and I go through the motions, putting away the leftover turkey and bringing out the Christmas décor. From the outside, many things look the same. The same artificial tree we’ve used for years is still shorter than we want it to be. The same red and white ornaments from my childhood create whimsy on our too-short tree while my favorite Christmas movie (It’s a Wonderful Life, of course) plays as we decorate. Even the same stockings are hung over the fireplace.
Well, the same stockings, minus one.
As the tree beams with the whimsy and magic and wonder of the holidays, I wonder if it’s possible to simply cancel Christmas. Can I shut my eyes and wake up and all of this be over? The season of light is overcast with the darkness of loss. I look at the three stockings, and my eyes burn with tears that I tell myself I “shouldn’t” shed, because it’s the holidays and I’m supposed to “be merry,” after all.
That only makes my eyes burn more.
How do I do this? How do I feel joy, peace, and hope when all my heart feels is sadness, grief, and pain? How do I survive this when all I want to do is weep?
The empty space above the fireplace taunts me with memories of the past, now tainted with the loss of the present. The good is hard to see when the grief is so fresh. Yet the good is there, mixed in with the pain. In fact, the pain exists because there was good that was lost. The light is small, but it’s still light in the darkness.
As I stand in the glow of the tree, I wonder if maybe it’s okay for me to weep for the memories that I cherish, and maybe I can smile about those, too. Maybe I can allow myself to feel what I need to feel… and even be angry and sad about the loss of what I hoped life would be like. Maybe the holidays are “supposed to be” filled with light and joy, but maybe the darkness and light can coexist.
And maybe, over time, the sky will lighten with a new morning, and the pain will be a little less dark. New memories will be made, and old memories will be treasured. Maybe the darkness of loss, even though it’s hard, can help me see the light more clearly.
Maybe the holidays are best served when I can remember that, just like light and dark, the joy and pain can also coexist. And that’s okay.
Instead of “Be merry!” I whisper to myself “Just be.”