A few weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving, I had a few minutes before picking up Will, so I ran into Target. As I drove up the ramp onto the parking deck, it started. Chest pain.
The same chest pain that arrived this time last year, landing me with one stress test that showed I was…. grieving. Nothing wrong with my heart – except that it was broken – broken during the holidays.
Cars whirled around me, speeding through aisles of parked cars, taking out slower drivers to grab spots a few places closer.
Moms looked terrified as if their children, seated in shopping carts, might be the victims of overzealous Tahoes racing through the lot to secure a spot. I could almost see accidents happening as brakes slammed, horns beeped, and nasty looks were cast from one busy person to the next. Too much. We’re all so busy. And even worse for me – was the holiday race really here already?
Inside the store was the same.
My heart continued to race as I grabbed my cart, pushed it along the aisles, and checked items off my list. People were rustling around frantically, like it was Christmas Eve and they had not one present under the tree.
I noticed the things that always hit me while I’m out – the endless displays of Frozen paraphernalia, the big girl clothes that my baby never got to wear, the art projects she would have thought were so fun, the Christmas lights and festive clutter that would have amazed her 5-year-old eyes.
But that wasn’t what got me this time, those feelings I am quite used to – I don’t like them, they still bring tears, but they are always there – part of my everyday. As I walked through the store in a haze that day, with my mind set on getting in and out of the mayhem as fast as possible, I realized it was people bringing my anxiety – the actions, the gluttony, the aggression, the race to the finish.
It was this idea pervading from shoppers that they are all busier than everyone else, that their child needs the last doll more than another, that they need to get to the front of the line because they have so much to do.
And as my heart beat faster and faster, as I had to stop and cling to my cart to not collapse, as tears welled in my eyes and spilled over uncontrollably while buying Will his first Chapstick, I became furious – disappointed that this is what our holiday looks like – saddened that “The Most Beautiful Time of the Year” brings out the ugliest in people.
Are we under so much pressure to create the perfect holiday that we lose sight of what makes this time of year so remarkable?
Yes, I believe we are.
I drove away from Target, barely holding on. I held my hand to my chest as if I could keep it under control with just the weight of my palm. I could hear myself struggling to breath normally, and could not hold back the sobs.
The season is hard enough for those of us grieving – but this display makes it almost unbearable. I decided right then, that was the end of my shopping. Thank you, Amazon. For those of us who have really suffered, been into the depths of despair, grabbed at pieces of anything to make us happy – for us this seasonal selfishness can take our breath away. Salt on the wound, lemon juice in the cut, knife in a barely beating heart – for how we view most things after catastrophe is different, holidays included.
Those grieving want everyone around them to see the world with our perspective. We want everyone around us to be able to easily focus on what is important, like we can. We want people who haven’t been through what we have to get it – but they can’t. So it hurts – because we want what is impossible. We wanted the world to change with us, through our loss.
This lesson came so easily to me after our loss.
Just like everything else, perspective surrounding the holidays came instantaneously after living through hell.
I used to care more about having my Christmas look perfect, than I did about how it actually was. I used to spend more time planning Christmas than I did enjoying the season with my family. I used to care more if our family looked good in a Christmas card than I did about us having fun together. I used to care more about my perfectly wrapped packages, than I did about filling someone’s heart with the joy of a thoughtful gift. I used to plan Libby’s Christmas outfits months ahead to make sure she perfectly portrayed her place in our little family.
I don’t want my holiday to be spent creating a perfect picture for a holiday card, worrying about setting the most beautiful table, or buying gifts out of obligation. I don’t want it spent putting an image out to the world that my family has it all together. I don’t want to look back on Christmas and think “thank goodness we’re past that ruckus.” I don’t want to ask someone what they want, and then go on Amazon and buy it. I want to be intentional about what I create, how I spend our season, and the memories I give my little boy. I want to be thoughtful – with my words, my gifts, my actions. I want to think about things that will make this holiday special for those around me – out of love, not obligation. Maybe I did do this before, I don’t know.
And for our children – can we stop and ask ourselves if what we’re spinning our wheels doing is for their joy, or for ours?
Do they care about the whole family having matching PJs, or do we? Do all our efforts actually annoy them instead of bring them delight? Do they want to be in charge of decorating the tree, but we micromanage to make it look perfect? Are we forcing them to smile for a family picture immediately after battling it out over toys left on the floor? Are they begging us to play with them, but we can’t because we’re too busy “making it perfect for them?” Uggggh.
Going into this week, can we step back, look at the magical moments around us, and breathe? Can we sit with new babies for long moments just staring at the lights on the tree? Can we take the day off work to start a new tradition? Can we prepare our holiday meal with our little ones, even if it doesn’t turn out quite as pretty? Can we teach our children how to be thoughtful, intentional, loving, and appreciative? Can we find ways of enjoying this week leading up to Christmas and put the stress of the preparations aside? I think it’s hard, but trying works, too.
I remember sitting in Christmas Eve service five years ago.
Libby was a baby and was being passed from lap to lap of her adoring family members. When everyone sat down and settled into their seats, the pastor welcomed us, and stated it so well. He said something like, “The preparations are behind you; Whether you are finished or not, Christmas is here. As you slide onto the pews, you can finally relax, knowing if it’s not done now, it’s fine.”
It hit home for me – I had been rushing around like crazy, trying to make Libby’s first Christmas just perfect. And it was perfect – but me? Had I enjoyed it with my family? Had I been in those special moments with my baby? I don’t remember, but I do remember feeling relieved as his words resonated so perfectly in me.
This year, I cannot avoid Christmas like I did last year – Will is too old.
He is giddy with excitement with every Christmas tree we see, every blow-up Santa we drive past, every decorated house. He will bring the magic of Christmas back into our home – whether we like it or not.
I cannot make him miss out because it hurts too much for me. So this year, we will focus on making this time special for him, we will teach him what the holiday is about, we will show him by example that we do not have to be angry, greedy, glutinous, and ugly this season, we will show him the beauty in giving from the heart, sharing with those less fortunate, and remembering those we have lost.
And this week, can we all try a little harder to not try as much? Can we lay under our sparkling tree with our family, and get lost in the twinkling lights like babies?
Can we realize we’re all busy, let people cross the street in front of us, let someone into our lane? Can we give money, time, and love to those around us who need it most? Can we think of thoughtful, meaningful gifts to share instead of telling someone what we want and expecting to get it, like a child? I, for one, don’t need anything this year. For what I need most, I cannot have.
So I will focus on giving my little boy joy found in the simple, in the sweet, in time together, in spoiled moments. I will show him he is loved, that his Mommy and Daddy love each other. I will show him kindness by example. I will not let him see me get fired up looking for a parking spot. He will see me give honking strangers the benefit of the doubt and letting people cross the street in front of me. I will let him eat icing and sprinkles, stay up too late, and I will help him imagine the beauty of the season, even if sometimes its very hard to see.
Barbara Jones writes on her blog, Cheek to Cheek.