It’s that time of
year again. It began in late October, when I received and gave my first gifts. That
was purely because someone travelled to NZ, and to avoid postage we exchanged
gifts then. Then there was a hiatus. But by the end of November, friends on Fbk
(you know who you are) were putting up their trees, Christmas music was
appearing in department stores, and my inner grouch was coming out.
By early December, the season is
well in motion. Remembering my father’s birthday also always reminds me of my
first loss, because it was during that week that I first found out I was
pregnant, and then first realised I was losing the baby. This year, my father
would have been 91. My baby would have been 17, practically an adult. So
December is always a time of loss for me.
These days, December doesn’t
usually bother me. I’ve even stopped – like most people – sending a lot of Christmas
cards, so don’t have that pressure any more. But this year, I will admit that I
have been feeling gloomy. Some of that is just life’s restrictions. Some of it
is feeling the absence of family, and knowing that friends will be focused on
their own families. So yes, even when I am writing a post about it getting better,
and becoming a time of year that we can embrace, I will admit to some feelings
of sadness or loneliness.
That said, a few weeks of some
pretty terrible spring weather, with gale-force winds and torrential rain over
the last few days, have probably also contributed to my mood. So this morning,
when the day dawned with sun and blue sky and no wind, I went for a walk, then
out for lunch with my husband. It’s feeling more summery, the pohutukawa
flowers are out, and my mood lifted. Perhaps just writing this (I’m inserting this paragraph at the last minute) has been therapeutic too.
Christmas Day this year will be
very, very quiet, with just my father-in-law and an aged uncle to join us. I’m
glad we can be there for them, as they have both lost their wives in the last
year, and if Christmas is hard for me, it will be very hard for them too. That’s
the thing. Their grief and loss this year will be much bigger than mine. I also
know that once they go home on Christmas afternoon, I can take a huge breathe,
have a mini Christmas mince pie and a cup of tea (or, let’s face it, a glass of
red wine), and relax.
That always makes it easier for me.
By Christmas afternoon/evening, my husband and I can relax together. We’re used
to doing that now, to having some quiet time together on this day of celebration
for so many. And I know how lucky I am to have him with me. In fact, just
thinking of that peaceful evening now makes me smile.
You see, that’s my first rule of
Christmas. It is only one day. I know that it’s not really – that as I said it
started in October or November for most of us, and can be weeks of reminders of
loss, and dread in anticipation. But when I’m feeling gloomy, and dreading the
coming weeks, I also step back, and remind myself that it is really just one
day. And I can get put up with pretty much anything for one day. Even if you’re
surrounded by people who will dd to the stress of the season, remind yourself
that it will all be over in a day, or a week, or by the New Year. Okay, perhaps
more accurately, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I should clarify that my
first rule of Christmas is that it passes.
My second rule of Christmas or any event
or holiday is to give yourself permission not to participate. If
it’s all going to be too much for you, then stay at home, eat toast, and hide
under the duvet. Or – in our hemisphere – go to the beach, or treat the day as
just the same as any other day. (As much as you can in NZ, where most shops are
shut.) You need to protect yourself, you don’t have to be merry and pretend all
is okay. Do what feels right for you this year. Because this too will pass.
My third rule of Christmas is to reclaim
it, and make it your own. I don’t agree that Christmas is just for
children. It’s what we make it. And so, when I can, I put my own stamp on
Christmas. I make my own Christmas cards most years – though haven’t this year,
as I have plenty left over from previous years. Being inventive with photos is
fun for me. If it’s not fun – don’t do it! I have a tree and much cherished
decorations – yes, I feel sad that I don’t have children who would love it too,
but there are no guarantees that your children will love the same things you
love. I design a menu that is simple but meets my tastes. I sleep in! (How many parents can do that?) I ensure my husband
and I have a special but simple breakfast together in the morning, before I
start cooking. And this year, because there will be so few of us to provide for,
I have just decided that we will go all out on the quality of the champagne and
wine! Embrace what you love, and reject what you don’t. It can be fun figuring
When I have family in town, or when
I’m visiting family, I’m surrounded by in-laws, or sisters, nieces and nephews,
and these days great-nephews too. That was painful those first years –
especially as my second ectopic pregnancy warned me that all was not well in a
temperature reading one Christmas morning when we were having that big family
Christmas. So for a couple of years, I avoided the big Christmases. One year, I
had my parents (and only my parents) come and stay, and we had a lovely adult
Christmas together. Another year, we took off to Europe, to get away from the
reminders of home. Even though we couldn’t escape Christmas, we could escape
all the reminders of the season in Wellington – the pohutukawa flowering (which
hold strong memories of loss), the arrival of summer, the strawberries for
Christmas dinner, etc. So it felt different, and that made it less painful.
Simply changing locations within NZ – renting a tiny cottage one year – helped
limit the painful reminders that, in those first years, are everywhere. And those
early years, by doing things on my own terms, I slowly began reclaiming
Now, 18 years after my first loss,
17 after my second, and 16 after ending our family-building efforts, I am able
to love my family Christmases again. I love getting to spend time with my
great-nephews, and my nieces who have grown into wonderful adults, and making
memories with them. I enjoy spending time with the overseas relatives when they
come back, and hosting them on Christmas Day. The thing they all remember about
New Zealand Christmases is that they were Mali-style Christmases. And that
legacy, whilst not the one I wanted to leave, is not nothing. In fact, it’s
pretty cool. I’m happy to lay claim to that.
My final rule of Christmas is less
relevant for me these days, but I still think it is very important. Be
kind to yourself. (It’s a good rule for the rest of the year too.) If
you’re surrounded by people, and stress levels are high, have small escapes
planned, to get away with friends, or your partner, or just a walk or a drive
by yourself when you can breathe. Maybe book a massage, or find a café that
will be open when you can go and have a calm few hours away from questions or
pressure or judgement or just noise. If it is the opposite, and you are seeking
out noise and company, think about volunteering at a charity, or arrange
get-togethers with friends. Yes, I know this is all easier said than done. But
knowing you have an escape is proven to make it easier to bear the stress
itself. And afterwards, reward yourself. Take a long bath, drink a good wine,
binge-watch your favourite programmes, or curl up with music, pets, loved ones,
or a book. Or all of those. Because this is the time of year when we should be especially
kind to everyone – ourselves as well as others.
I know I have made this
Christmas-centric, and I apologise to those who do not celebrate or recognise Christmas.
It’s a big deal here in NZ, but much less for religious reasons and more for celebrations
around the end of the year (much of the pre-Christmas chaos is due to end-of-year
school events or work parties), and the beginning of summer and the lengthy summer
holidays. Perhaps it is a bit more like Thanksgiving in the US, or other major
celebrations (for example, Chinese New Year) involving families. So I think my
comments apply regardless of what is being celebrated. Feel free to interchange
any such event as you read this.
I’ll add that my little book of memes, No Kidding
in Brief, is available, both as a paper book, or as an e-book too.
Finally, all of my previous posts
about the issue can be found if you click on this link here. They vary in mood,
readers have left helpful comments, and maybe one of them, or of the posts
above, will be what you need to read.