Christmas is gearing up around my house and I’m pretty excited about it. Honestly, I love everything about the holidays. From the anticipation to the decorating to the traditions to the music, it’s the time of year that I feel the most grounded. For six weeks or so I have a pretty good idea of what to expect out of life; it is predictable and it is comforting. So yes, I am one of those people who breaks out the Christmas songs and decorations in November because it allows me to breathe. I can think to myself “OK, we did it. We made it to another Christmas”. With all of the change that has happened, the holidays are still familiar and welcoming; a feeling of coming home again. And even though I still get so much joy out of this season, I can’t help but feel moments of loss for all of the reasons that my favourite time of year is now different.
The loss I feel at this time of year isn’t an overwhelming or obvious one. It is subtle yet persistent. It hits me when decorating, shopping and when we start to plan our holiday outings. Put simply, Christmas is just harder than it used to be. Even so, it remains my favourite time of year and the little jabs I feel remind me of something that I’ve learned throughout all of this that I never knew before. They remind me how happiness and grief can exist simultaneously. In a recent episode of This Is Us, Rebecca said “The happiest moments will also be a little sad”. With that simple statement my eyes filled with tears because it was exactly how I have been feeling All of the happy, all of the good, all of the amazing things that have happened and will still happen in my life, will always be a little bit sad. Simultaneous and contradicting emotions where one allows you to feel the other so much deeper.
Before my husband and I had even held our first child, we had already imagined a lifetime of moments. When you start your relationship at 15, you have a long time to dream of your life together. You play the reel in your head of anticipated summer vacations, high school graduations, birthdays, holidays, weddings, grandchildren and Christmas traditions – all of it. With one accident, everything had to be recalculated (Christmas included). In so many of those dreams I had taken my capabilities as a guarantee and that change in my mind from participating to watching cuts deep every time. Imagine a scene where you are sledding with your kids. It goes by quickly in your head, but you’re there and you’re in it. You are sliding down with your family and everyone is laughing. You’re cold and wet and completely immersed in the moment. Then you play the scene again but instead of sliding, you are watching; sitting and watching. You are still laughing because they are laughing and you are still there. But you are not wet (although, let’s face it, you are probably still cold) and you are not completely immersed. Your role in the scene has changed and the memory of that day will always be different than you would have expected. Now imagine that same change in different scenarios – summer vacations, high school graduations, birthdays, holidays, weddings, grandchildren and Christmas traditions – and you can maybe get a small idea of what plays in my mind.
Those anticipated moments that we dreamt of have all changed. Now we are faced with the reality that in the happy there will always be a little bit of heartbreak. I think anyone who has experienced loss of any kind can understand that. But for now, I’m faced with Christmas. I’m faced with prodding reminders here and there that even this, my favourite time of year, is different and difficult. I’m thankful for a patient husband who shifts décor on the shelves that I can’t reach and strings lights and ribbon up on the tree. I’m thankful for the wonderful people in my life who come shopping with me and carry all of my bags around. But I miss doing it myself. I’m also thankful that there are Christmas events that are accessible enough that I can still join in with my family. But those visions have still been changed. Walking to sitting. Always immersed in the moment to sometimes being a spectator. Happy now entangled with sadness. It’s all changed. But it’s still Christmas. It is still familiar, warm and comforting and I will continue to love it even when it hurts.
The song Hallelujah comes to mind now. There is a verse in the Tori Kelly version that has resonated with me. It doesn’t speak to me about faith in a higher power but more about allowing myself to feel happy even though life can be difficult. I’ll stand (figuratively speaking) in front of my own life and look at it for exactly what it is and I will give myself permission to feel the pain while simultaneously finding the joy. I hope you can all find your joy during this holiday season.
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah