My grandma died on Christmas day. Lunch time. A choir sang Christmas carols in the hospital cafe downstairs as her last breath escaped her tired body.
I wasn’t there: I was only six years old. That night in the dark, my mother knelt at my bed. She told me my grandma had gone home to be with grandpa who’d preceded her only four months prior. For two weeks my mom had sat and slept at her mother’s side in the decorated hospital. She’d prayed for her mom to stay and finally let her go.
“I’m an orphan now,” my mom would often say. It was something I’d never really understood until much later. How could my mom, a strong grown-up, be an orphan?
She dreaded the month of December, every year. Hearing Christmas songs made her tear up.
But still, a Christmas tree would appear. We’d have candles, a meal, a celebration with church and school, a book to read.
I tried to fool myself, but that only works for so long.
I think about this now. A season, an anniversary date, a song can cause such a sudden and overwhelming emotion that it can halt your breath. Losing someone during the holidays and then being reminded of it every year as you watch stores being decorated, hear songs played on the radio, must be especially gut wrenching. No wonder my mom dreaded Christmas season.
I didn’t think I was sentimental about dates nor the holidays, until recently. I tried to fool myself, but that only works for so long.
Years of having celebrated Christmas with the kids as a family produced warm fuzzy memories for me. As a mom I shaped a family tradition. Arriving as an immigrant to America without any family nor support, I felt it important to create traditions; you become dependent upon one another. I knew this would change as my kids grew into adulthood, went to college and moved away, yet I didn’t anticipate the effects this would have on me internally. I have always shrugged emotions off: I’m down to earth, I’m not bound to traditions, I’m an atheist.
I didn’t want to buy in to it: the commercialization, the designated date of family celebration.
Watching TV this Christmas Day and overhearing my girlfriend say her sister was spending time with her ex-husband’s family and their children I suddenly started crying. Just a comment. That was all it took. I had been feeling it of course - the absence of my children, the laughter, playing games together, the silliness. Yet, I didn’t want to buy in to it: the commercialization, the designated date of family celebration. Easier said than done when scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, watching TV commercials and all you see are “happy” family get-togethers.
Holidays are hard for different people for different reasons. These last weeks I’ve heard from people who can’t go home as their families don’t accept their sexuality, their partner, their religion or other life choices. Some can’t afford to visit family. Others lost family.
The Hallmark movies aren’t real life. The Instagram photos showcase the best sides of families. Facebook pictures let you see what people want you to see. This much I know.
Just - reach out to others, especially now.
Pietje - say Peach-a!