Wednesday, December 12, 2018

It's not all sleigh bells and mistletoe for some of you

The news that breaks your heart.
The unexpected memory that starts the tears.
The missing places at the table.

That's sorrow.

Last week it came to many of us in the writing community with the news of the sudden, untimely death of lovely young woman named Gracie. I saw the news on Twitter (where else do you see this kind of thing anymore) and all I could think was "no no no" but yes, it was true.

I post this because I know that sorrow is something many of you deal with every day.  During this holiday season, when it seems like the whole world is reveling, it's hard hard hard to join in; sometimes it's hard to not scream "STOP" to all the folderol.

I don't have the answer. If I did, I'd come to your house and share it. We'd drink cocoa and eat cookies by the fire, then hop on our brooms and head to the next house and share it there. Honestly, the image makes me laugh but oh man, wouldn't that be great?

My coping mechanism is avoidance, but that may not work if you have kids in the house, or family obligations.

All I can say is I know you are out there, and you're in my thoughts.

If any of you have tips or techniques for getting through the holidays with a heavy heart, I hope you'll tell us in the comments column.


CynthiaMc said...

Today is my mom's birthday. My dad died in November the year I was twelve. Traditionally we'd put up our tree after Thanksgiving. That year neither of us felt festive. Right before Mom's birthday she said "Daddy would not want this. He wants to look down and see us happy and the house beautiful." So on Mom's birthday we decorated the tree, I played Christmas carols on the piano that was their Christmas gift to me a few years before.

Today I'm decorating our tree for our family that is here and Daddy, Mom, and my big brother Joseph in heaven. I'm sending them an earthly kiss and I have no doubt they send heavenly kisses back.

Holiday hugs to everyone.

nightsmusic said...

When Thing 1 was just a year old, my mother died suddenly and that's when it hit me that my parents really weren't immortal. I buried her Christmas Eve morning so as not to have that hanging over my dad's head on Christmas day. It was terrible. The house was already decorated, we still kept our plans for Christmas day, but we ghosted our way through it all.

Life moved on, Christmas came and went. Another baby joined our home, Thing 2. They were the reason I kept decorating every year for several years until finally, 5 or six years down the road, I noticed I was humming a carol while decorating the tree and that's when I realized that, though this time of year will always be hard for me, and I will forever miss my mom, I can still enjoy a holiday that was once, and is again, my favorite time of the year.

I don't have a quick fix. Time doesn't heal all wounds. Time helps to make it less painful. I sit alone in front of the tree sometimes and quietly cry. For my mom, for my dad who is now gone...but I get it out of my system and move on. To wallow in my grief wouldn't just affect me and I'd rather my family enjoy this time of year.

Sorry, long post.

Barbara Hinske said...

What a helpful, thoughtful post. I've borrowed a tip from AlAnon that I've used repeatedly over the years: I can do something for 12 hours (or 1 hour or 10 minutes) that would appall me if I had to do it for a lifetime. I then keep moving forward, through each block of time, repeating this mantra.

I always remind myself that things always seem harder when it's dark outside. Think of difficult things in the sunshine.

Hugs to anyone who is suffering.

BJ Muntain said...

I sing. I sing as often as I can at church, and I belong to a corporate choir that sings at various seniors' homes in the city and throughout the province in December. Singing itself can lift one's mood, and keeping myself busy with choirs throughout December helps in avoiding the bad thoughts.

I was told that doing something to make others smile can help a person with depression get through the holidays. The seniors are thrilled to have a choir like ours come visit, and their smiles and thanks are wonderful. We encourage them to join in on simpler, well-known songs, and they do.

This doesn't make every Christmas a joyous occasion, but it helps me to get through the season. And I hope it helps the seniors, too.

Katja said...

Oh my.. this post has touched me! Thank you for it, I find this important!!

I didn't expect you'd have to avoid things like Christmas :(. Hopefully you can travel to Oregon and see your sisters and nieces & nephews (I'm not sure if you have both..).

Well, Christmas is OK for me these days. Thank goodness!
But it used to be SO different. I spent MANY Christmases alone in the past, and before then they weren't that great either because my father is a party-pooper, so I even call those events in my book "Moody Christmas".

My OCD used to forbid all about Christmas - I wasn't allowed to say the word, eat chocolate-Santas, or even THINK of anything related with Christmas. But that's all history now (I wouldn't write the words down here otherwise, ha ha), and I now have a much better Christmas-time with Fiancé.

I have a lot of elderly neighbours here in England, and I wonder how they're feeling. I've bought ingredients to bake muffins, so I will take some to them. Gives me real joy - one, because I defeated my OCD to some extend and live Christmas; and two, giving to my neighbours is living Christmas, too :).
(What's the English saying again? Two birds and one stone..!?)

So, yeah, I do know what it feels like when you can't wait for the day AFTER Christmas!
I don't have the answer for the pain to go away either :( :(.

Please be well, everyone!


Lisa Bodenheim said...

Thank you for this Janet. Being a clergywoman, I've visited hospitals during death's approach and officiated at funerals with loving families and dysfunctional families. I take heart from my faith and the Great Sacred Mystery of the cosmos. Somehow, somewhere, in some changed form, I will be with loved ones again. I'm lucky because I'm part of two large extended, goofy families.

My dad's been gone just two years but his voice, his laugh, his personality still lives within me. My brother's been gone almost 40 years but his voice, his laugh, his personality remain, so easy to call to mind.

My sympathies go out to people dealing with fresh grief. It never totally goes away but life gives us more people to love and live for.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

At this time of year, a long time ago, I was experiencing a kind of holiday and personal joy I could never have imagined. I was pregnant with our first child. Every moment was a precious gift spent imagining baby, toddler, and little kid dreams. I envisioned teenage years for our little one, college, marriage and grandchildren. A future lay before us as a family like no other. I wondered what I had done so right to allow our lives to be so blessed. Ten days later the unimaginable, our baby was gone. A miscarriage they said, just one of those things women go through while navigating life., no, no.
It wasn’t, “just one of those things,” it was the death of my baby.
My child died and an entire future was erased for us and a tiny beating heart.
I won’t go into the pain of devastating loss, except to say that it took many years, two more children, additional joys and wounded hearts to explain to myself that being blessed and bearing pain is what our journey on earth is about?
In ten days I will pause and glance back thirty-five years. For a few dark moments I will mourn that tiny spirit which I believe was a gift taken and gift given by being gently placed in the arms of someone else.
And then, as we all must, I will move on.

Thank you for today's post Janet and thanks to all for sharing your stories. We are a compassionate bunch here. So glad, that during this special time of year, I get to know you all so intimately. It helps.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

oh yes
Lost my mom last year and she was too ill to host her Christmas Eve Chinese take out gathering.

It is hard to realize a year has flown by and I note the passing of each event, the diagnosis, the emergency hospital runs, the faint hope of unproven drastic treatments and the 6 am phone call.

No wonder I don't have any energy for Christmas cheer. And I'm tired of the frantic shopping all around, I make one stop at our local book store. I will cook a traditional Swedish meal for the 90 year olds and send out some cards. We'll put up a tree for them. And we put the lights up which do help our dark Northern nights.

Rosemary Boyd said...

There has been so much loss and tragedy in my life time that it reads like "The Thorn Birds" only Meggie would have a priest explain the menstrual cycle.
My parents died last year 4 months and 9 days apart. We are expected to remain strong and when the last flower dies most do not want to hear about your woes.
I set framed photos at the table. I visit their graves. I attend "Sounds of the Season." This year with the examination of traditional Christmas music it is like an other rug being pulled out from under. I am reinventing myself by working on book publication issues. I attended the Writer's Digest Conference in Manhattan in August so like you I will be reading.
" all the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names" just sayin!
Thank you for sharing your stories.
Rosemary Boyd London Ontario Canada 1-519-857-3631

Sherry Howard said...

So many people struggle with the holidays! When a contest for children’s holiday stories opened at, I had just been to a couple of funerals for matriarchs. So, I wrote an entry that focused on honoring our loved ones through our enjoyment of the holidays in their honor. If you’ve lost someone, you may want to take a look: scroll down to Toby Saves Christmas. Sorry, I can’t share the link. I forgot how!

RosannaM said...

Thank you for this post, Janet. It got me thinking. I don't have any wise words to heal heavy hearts, but I'll give a shot at practical tips.

1. Always wear long sleeves. (You won't always have a tissue handy, and they work wonders for blotting tears.)
2. Music is good, but stick with instrumentals. (that song where the kid buys his Mom a pair of shoes can make you have to pull the car over.)
3. Don't get caught up in all the should do this tasks. Buying, wrapping, mailing, cooking. It can all be too much. But do sit quietly and listen to your heart and do what it wants. A small tree? With only lights? You decide.
4. Try to breathe some fresh air. Building air is stale, but fresh air tastes good! Take a breath or two here and there.
5. If you can, connect with another human being. It can even be with strangers. Hold a door open, carry a package, smile at a fussy child.

Hope this helps in some way.

Casey Karp said...

My condolences and best wishes to all.

It's been two years, two months, and two days since Dad died. I still find myself wanting to send him interesting or amusing links. Still want to ask his advice on tricky scenes. Still want hugs.

No great tips for getting through it, I'm afraid. Just take it one day at a time. Keep up the traditions when you can. Mom comes down for New Years, as always. Give yourself permission not to do something when you can't. We haven't put up decorations for Halloween the past two years.

Hang in there.

Cherie O'Boyle said...

My dogs, including the new baby puppy. The parks are empty Christmas morning, and we happily play in peace, while they entice me to live in the moment. My fictional village, where my writing takes me to laugh with all those quirky neighbors. Cheese Danish and Netflix. Reminding myself that how I live my day is a choice. At the end of the day, it's just another day. Peace.

John Davis Frain said...

The most amazing thing I've learned is how infectious a friendly gesture can become. Help somebody out, even just a little, and you'll feel it inside.

Doesn't have to be a big thing. Hold the door for someone. Buy their Big Gulp. Comment on their smile (I think that's still okay to do in today's world). And always acknowledge when someone does you a nice turn. It's a way to reciprocate.

Try it just once. It's more contagious than a cold. And feels way better.

I have to add that this blog is a pretty positive neighborhood too.

I also have to add that I missed yesterday and my nominee for Favorite Read 2018 is NOVEMBER ROAD by Lou Berney. Maybe only because I read it more recently than Sunburn?

Stay positive, y'all, and make it a writing holiday!

Karen McCoy said...

What a lovely post. Sending love, and light, to Gracie and her family. The comments are inspiring too. nightsmusic, CynthiaMc, to name a few. And Rosemary, your Thorn Birds comment made me guffaw (I love that book, and the movie).

Haven't shared this with many, but we just found out that the company that owns our house wants to sell and is giving us 60 days to vacate. Will be tough to buy in the tight time frame, and may have to rent. Regardless, moving is imminent. Budgets are tight, as my contract position expired and I am still looking for full-time work. I am so glad I have The Reef to help tether me.

Lennon Faris said...

Very touching post. Hugs to all the Reefers/ Reiders here. Wishing you all a peaceful season.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

When you light a candle for others, you illuminate your own path.

I believe more people struggle during the holidays than we realize. Many years ago I decided to quit pretending I was having a grand time. I stopped buying presents/shopping for gifts. Completely. Zip, zero gift giving. Told everyone in my gift-giving circle to please not buy me anything. I don't need more anything. I gave away all my boxes of ribbons and bows and wrapping paper.

This may sound sad. Nope. It was extremely liberating. And I felt like I could breathe during the holidays for the first time in years.

It's important to remember that everyone has suffered loss of some kind. Everyone is dealing with their own level of grief. We are all mourning. You're not alone.

I also think we have some sort of internal expectations that the holidays will bring the same excitement and joy they brought in our childhood. It hurts when the wonder of innocence is replaced by the burden of being an adult.

Back to that quote up top... The money we would normally spend on buying gifts for people who don't need more "stuff" we now spend on people and animals who are truly in need.

Something I've learned from the animals here at the sanctuary: a date on the calendar doesn't define when we should be happy. Every day gives us something to be grateful for; sometimes it's only our memories. But what a gift.

Janet, Come visit. I think you need to smell a horse.

Craig F said...

The emotional response to grief and tragedy is as varied as there are people. There is no way to try to lead them all to a lighter place.

The best thing you can is learn how to and be willing to really listen when they need to open their personal Pandora's box.That, in turn, makes you abetter person. It also makes you look at your writing differently and , hopefully, for the better.

My own response tends to be rather maudlin. It lost me two jobs because I refused to partake in their Christmas crap.It happens when you lose your only child.

But the stars still fall on Alabama and tomorrow is another day. Some are better than others. The world does not turn smoothly. Currently we have Feline Leukemia stalking our neighborhood. Lost our Brindle kitty two weeks ago. Three days ago The Tawny one9 who was famous here a while back) took sick. He doesn't have long.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

What we have done here for many years is make the holiday as peaceful as possible for the old folks. We put up some lights and some electric candles. We put up a tree for them and play Scandinavian Christmas music. We make a traditional dinner. We have Advent candles.

It is the turning of the darkest time of the year back towards the light. That is what I celebrate.

It helps to be as kind as you can to others.

Jen said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this.

Susan C Shea said...

I remember the happy times, share memories with other people who liked and admired my sweetheart, and if a dark mood descends I honor it and him for a few minutes and then get busy with something that will distract me. When I'm alone and - like someone else said - and it's dark outside, I am tempted to feel lonely. But then I remember I'll be seeing my grandkids and I can never be lonely when they're around.

Colin Smith said...

I just left my Mum at the airport after a three week visit with the family. That's why my internet presence as a whole has been spotty recently. I haven't seen her in three years (FaceTime aside), so it was nice to spend time with her and for her to catch up on how much the kids have grown. I'm sure you understand. :)

My Mum is one of eleven. A few years back one of her younger brothers died. He was only 56. He was out in the yard doing something when he collapsed. It seems one of the ventricles of his heart failed to operate. Instead of bump-bump, his heart went bump. An electrical signal didn't make it. He was healthy, had plans for the future, a wife, and grown kids. And in an instant he was gone.

This reminded us all of how fragile life is. How precious each moment is. And how little power we really have over our time here. I could preach a sermon, but it's not my blog so I won't. Suffice to say, remember well and grieve the loved ones lost, but don't squander a moment of the time you have by neglecting the ones who are still around.

luciakaku said...

I'm sure this is a shock, but I've always been a storyteller as a coping mechanism.

For like a year after my sister died, I was telling people about her almost constantly. I experienced things she loved--her favorite band (Barenaked Ladies) and her favorite movie (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert)--and told people stories about her. One of my favorites was a story she'd tell me about high school. One friend would say, "I like tall guys." Another said, "I like blond guys." Anne would say, "I like BALD guys." And then all her friends would say, "Anne, you like ALL guys."

My brother died recently, and I immediately started doing some things that reminded me of him. He was a big fan of asking people, "Guess what?" and responding with "chicken butt" when they asked. My friends are quite upset with me.

I am Become Grief said...

My mom passed away a little over six years ago, and holidays seem to get progressively worse to deal with.
Hobbies get me through the holidays and help me make them fun for my kids.
I taught myself to knit last year, so I am making stockings for the entire family (I have 9 siblings, who all have a SO and 2-3 kids, some have grandkids, so this is taking a long time).
Each year, I make around 60 dozen cookies. The past two years, starting at Thanksgiving, I look up or create 3-4 new recipes to try out. This year, chocolate blossoms with hugs and red velvet white chocolate chip so far. They are amazing.

Anonymous said...

This has been uplifting to read, believe it or not. Hugs to everyone.

I agree that going outdoors is helpful. And telling stories about the person who died, or saying the line they would have said were they here.

My experience is that sometimes people want to talk to a grieving person about the one who died, but very strict social rules provide us with no way to do so, or even prevent us from doing so. I don't think it's necessarily true that people stop thinking of you when the last flower dies. But they don't know what to do. Being with grieving people is a very advanced social skill, and most of us flunk. We're sorry.

I wish we had a more humane system for funerals. I once lived in a culture where there was a week of funeral services after the death, and then memorial services at 30 days, 100 days, and 1 year. This provided natural opportunities to keep remembering the person.

Sorry this post is late, I was sick.

LynnRodz said...

Thank you, Janet, for this post. The holidays are really for children. For adults, it's a time of reflection, of childhood memories, and of happier and simpler times. It's inevitable, as we get older, a loved one will be missing and because of that, sorrow and nostalgia set in making the season bittersweet.

How to get through the holidays especially if a loved one has recently passed? My only answer is with faith. Faith that things will get easier with time. Faith that perhaps they're in a better place. Faith that one day you'll be reunited. And if you don't believe in those things, then faith that you'll be able to carry on.

Wishing you, Janet, and everyone here at the reef - Happy Holidays.