It’s the most wonderful time of the year. So why do we feel so broken-hearted?
Twinkling lights and sparkling Christmas trees. Candles lit, pies baking, and Silent Night. Gifts. The act of giving itself is a magical act … to consider a person that you love, imagine what might make them happy, and then wrap it up in a box with paper and ribbon.
As mama to a young child, I feel very magical this time of year. Let me tell you, there is no greater pleasure than to share the holiday season with a young child … to watch her eyes sparkle as she imagines a Christmas miracle.
I want to be the kind of mama that decorates our home so that it sparkles on Christmas. I want to indulge my little girl’s imagination so she can picture what kind of cookies Santa likes to eat best, and how many carrots the reindeer will need for their trip. I want her to love Christmas, and I want her innocence to last as lost as it possibly can.
We have a beautiful, warm, safe house where we can celebrate the holidays. We love each other and can spend time together this Christmas. We have money to buy wonderful gifts for our little girl. Our girl is healthy and happy enough to enjoy those gifts. We are abundantly blessed.
Gratitude helps. But as I’ve learned over the years, if you feel something, there must be some truth to it.
I have learned that my feelings are my inner guides, and always worth my attention (regardless of whether I like it or not). While my Christmas joy is deep and satisfying, it is mirrored by a sense of grief.
Christmas represents the joy and magic of life itself. It is right now, but it is eternal. It is this year, when we live in Fate, Texas and our daughter is four. Yet it also includes the past and the future. It represents when my husband and I were children our selves, and when my daughter will no longer be four.
I’ve been feeling stuck … I haven’t known what to do with these feelings.
They rush towards me in swirling colors and pictures. When my parents were still married, we would dance every Christmas to the Nutcracker and Vivaldi. When my parents got divorced, we somehow spent our first Christmas Eve afterwards with my dad’s girlfriend’s ex-husband. No Vivaldi. No Nutcracker.
The complexities of my husband’s history come forward as well. Grudges and arguments, disappointments and aches. I want to just lift them for him, but that’s not how this thing works.
When my daughter was a baby, we lived in a converted garage. Since it was only four hundred square feet, we didn’t have space for a Christmas tree. We didn’t have money for Christmas cards and a birth announcement, so we mailed out Christmas postcards with her footprint and birth weight printed on the back.
When I was working as a travel nurse in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, we lived in a rustic cabin with a broken sink and a busted propane heater. That holiday season, my husband’s parents came to visit us and put us up in a hotel. They ended up leaving early, after my husband and his father were fighting so loud that security got called.
See how this works?
Before you can acknowledge that you lived through hard things, that you survived, that you have the right to be sad, first you have to admit that they actually happened.
Make some space in your Christmas joy for Christmas grief. For the baby you lost. For the marriage that ended. For the loved ones that you grieve. Even, for the loss of what you dreamed of … replaced by everything that really happened.
Image: Meraki Labbe
This Christmas, it’s too warm for snow. There are still flashing lights, Christmas cookies, and beautiful voices that take my breath away. I will promise you in advance … it’s not going to be perfect.
But the Christmas story is not about scented candles, or gifts in shiny gold boxes, or tricking everyone into thinking that you’re doing much better than you actually are.
The Christmas story is about a poor pregnant woman and her husband, guided only by the voice of an angel. She finally finds the only warm place where she can give birth, in a shelter with animals. The only place she has to lay her perfect new baby is a manger, covered with hay. The voice of every stranger she meets along the way tells her things will not be ok, or worse: that she and her baby didn’t deserve the most basic comfort and care. Yet she takes a leap of courage, and faith, and brings him into this world anyway.
Featured painting: Mother Mary and Jesus, by Taruna Rettinger