When Holidays Hurt

Once again we’re approaching that season. The big holiday season. Many of us are already preparing dishes ahead of time, or at least making our shopping lists so we’ll have everything we need to prepare a feast for our guests.

Thanksgiving and Christmas. Two huge holidays which are meant for celebrating with families. But sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Those happy holiday meals, sitting around a beautifully set table, enjoying everyone’s company…it just doesn’t always work like that.

Many families are divided. Divorce has claimed its ugly toll, splintering parents and children. When it was unwanted by one side or the other, the one who didn’t want the divorce is the one hurting the most. Every holiday ad showing happy families sitting down to a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast; every ad showing families Christmas shopping together, or sitting around a beautifully lit tree opening presents…everywhere they look, they’re reminded of what isn’t anymore. And it’s like a punch in the stomach.

Even when the divorce was mutual, and both parties were in agreement, it’s still tough, especially that first year when families are split, kids don’t know where to go, what to say, or how to act. There are so many memories, so many reminders of what was, and will not be again. What they had perceived as happy times, they wonder about now, wondering if those times were really that happy, or if it was all a show, a bit of make-believe.

Yes, it’s hard. It’s a time when many of those unhappy memories are put away, ignored, even remembered in different ways. Those last few holidays in which no one spoke to each other except when necessary, when gifts were quickly exchanged so everyone could go somewhere else, when the meal was eaten in separate rooms; when sarcastic or hurtful comments were made back and forth…all of that is conveniently forgotten because it’s too hard to remember.

You long for the old traditions, the way things used to be, but in reality, those traditions you think you remember weren’t always actually the way you remember. You just want to think they were.

The holidays are even harder when you’ve lost loved ones. Many of us have lost loved ones on Thanksgiving Day or that holiday weekend. That also contributes to an even harder touch of sadness on that day.

Those memories of the years when our loved ones were with us come back when we least expect it, sometimes with tears we’ve already cried months or even years ago. We know we’ll never have those days again. It hurts. And the only way we can survive it, is to push through it, remember the good times, and do our best to make new memories in this new normal. Is it easy? No, but we do what we have to do.

When I was very young holidays were always spent with my grandparents, parents, and assorted aunts and uncles and cousins. But as the years went by, slowly, one by one, those family members were no longer around. Some had passed away, and some moved on to spend their holidays with their new extended families due to marriages or living too far away to travel back home.

It was hard. Especially as the years quickly passed, and then my mother was no longer around (my father died many years before her), and those holiday traditions faded away until there was very little to be kept. We went from friends’ homes to friends’ homes those first years until we were finally able to establish our own special holiday tradition with our grown daughter and her family. But still, I long for those old holiday dinners that will never be again, to be with loved ones that I will only see again after I leave this world.

There is no perfect holiday, except in our minds. It’s what we make it. The old traditions are gone, but new traditions need to be established, even if it’s just one little thing each year. And as you rebuild your life, from whatever you’ve been through, you build those new traditions.

For our family, that means inviting friends to join us for our holiday meals, bringing one of their favorite dishes as part of a new tradition for our family. They’re welcomed as part of our extended family, and by the time the evening is over, we’ve added more branches to our family tree.

Holidays can hurt. There’s no way around it. And unfortunately for many of you, this may be the case this year.

But I can tell you, it does get better. It just doesn’t seem like it right now. It will always seem different, but it WILL get better.

And you’re not alone in feeling this way.

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