Christmas! It is my favorite time of year. When Christmas comes to mind, so do all the traditions that come along with it. Some of them are old that stem from my childhood, and some of them are new. There was a time as a young adult, when I thought things would never change. Unfortunately, change is something we can count on.
Tradition has always been important to me. Especially when dealing with loss or change. When I was a child, my mother always made sure I had cozy new pajamas to open on Christmas Eve and to decorate the house with figurines like baby Jesus figurines. That is something I now do for my children. If I were to skip that tradition, they would no doubt get upset. Every year we bake gingerbread cookies. Growing up, my grandfather always cooked breakfast on Christmas morning. He was famous for his pancakes. When he passed away, my brother carried on the tradition. It may seem like a small thing, but for my children it was extremely important. There were a few times I panicked when I thought there was a risk of that tradition changing. Eventually it will, but at that time I was desperate to hold onto it. I knew my kids needed it because I was going through a divorce. It was a time of huge loss and change for my children. Tradition can be the glue that holds us together. Especially when everything else changes, and life seems barely recognizable or appears to be falling apart. I can’t tell you how something so small and simple can be the magical rest stop or destination on a long journey of loss. There is no doubt in my mind that those traditions were a safe refuge for my family. In a short span of time we moved to a different house, the kids began public school after homeschooling, and after being a stay-at-home mom I returned to college and to work. A few years later we experienced another trauma. It was another time that we all clung to the familiar. Traditions are familiar.
I am thankful that other than losing my grandparents who lived very long lives, I have not experienced the loss of losing someone close to me. However, I know loss. There are so many types of loss that people experience. Grief and loss are not just defined by death. We experience loss through divorce, or things such as the loss of a friendship, job, a home, or one’s health. My children and I experienced loss because of my divorce. Not many people recognize the trauma that can occur from divorce. Divorce is common and relatively accepted in the United States. It is normal. I think people don’t understand that for some it is very much like a death. Except instead of losing one person, you lose a whole family. I often think of all the holiday traditions connected to my former marriage. Those are traditions that are gone and in the past. It took years before I could think of them and no longer feel pain. The first few years I tried to get my kids to smuggle food home made from their great-grandma’s recipes. Those of course are still traditions in their lives, just not mine. The first year I was divorced, I began a new tradition of Christmas shopping with a friend. We would go to dinner before shopping, and end the night talking over coffee. For years I kept up that new tradition. It was a time to relax, have fun, de-stress, while getting my mind off the sad things. The worst part about divorce was sharing my kids on the holidays. As much as it is right and necessary, it did not change the fact that it was hard for me to grasp that they would have a whole set of memories that I wasn’t a part of. When I would drop them off those first few years, I would cry all the way home. Only the first Christmas did I allow myself to go home and crawl into bed. I had to begin the process of acceptance. And I had to come up with some new traditions.
If you are experiencing loss or change for the first time this holiday season, be kind to yourself. We all experience grief or loss differently. It is ok to reevaluate your traditions. Some people decide to change or eliminate some of them. Others look forward to them as a way of experiencing some sense of normalcy. It may be time to add some new ones. Don’t compare holidays to the former ones. It is a waste of time, because they are going to be different. You can’t avoid it. There are going to be tough moments. Holidays, like every day will have to be redefined. It is ok to cry. It is also ok to laugh. Remember to allow others to help you through the difficult times. It is ok to want to be alone at times, but be careful not to isolate yourself. Don’t push your loved ones away. They may not know exactly what to say, but give them grace. If you are thinking of skipping the holidays all together, you should reconsider. Learn to face the “firsts” and roll with it like a wave. Feel it and don’t avoid it. The first year will always be the hardest. Finally, take care of yourself. Do something nice for yourself, and remember that adjusting will take time. Eventually you will be able to enjoy the holidays again. You will even look forward to them. I promise.