Surviving the holidays
I received a call from my mamaw Sunday night. She asked how Gideon and I have been doing and what we’d like for Christmas this year. It was your typical catch-up conversation, but when we talked more about Christmas, she sounded sad.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“It’s just hard this time of the year,” she said. “Mama and Daddy are gone. Christmas just isn’t the same as it used to be.”
She started to cry and apologized, saying she didn’t mean to get so upset. I told her it’s OK to be upset, that I felt honored she felt comfortable expressing those emotions to me. Her mother, my great-grandmother Gladys, passed when I was too young to understand what death means. We lost her father, whom the grandchildren called Papaw Leighvon, almost 10 years ago. My middle name comes from Papaw Leighvon –– it is spelled “Leigh” instead of the traditional feminine “Lee.”
Mamaw told me her mother passed around Christmas time. She said that has made it especially hard to celebrate Christmas the way we used to, with everyone gathered together eating and laughing. Someone is always missing now. We still spend time together, but there’s definitely a void in the room.
After we ended the call, I started thinking about how the holidays haven’t been pure for a long time. Losing my mom’s father was the first big death I experienced and the holidays haven’t been the same ever since. We talk about him and share joyous memories, but that doesn’t mean everything is hunky dory. Christmas is bittersweet –– though we are thankful to celebrate together, we aren’t all there anymore.
That’s not just my family’s experience. This time of the year is difficult for many of us who have lost loved ones, especially if those loved ones passed around the holidays. You want to remember them with a smile, but sometimes you just feel lonely. It can feel disheartening to look around and realize someone you love isn’t there. I’m so grateful for the memories of lost loved ones, but memories don’t bring them back.
I hope this column resonates with all of you –– those who are sad during Christmas and those who aren’t. If there’s ever a time to reach out to people who are feeling down, it is now. For many people, the holidays are filled with sadness, self-reflection, loneliness and anxiety. We can’t take someone’s sadness away, but we can listen and support them in their time of need.
Empathy is a powerful tool that unites us. Christmas is all about unity, love and kindness. So this Christmas, I wish you a shoulder to lean on. And if you don’t need help, I wish you the empathy to reach out and shoulder the pain of others. At the end of the day, all we have is one another.
Let’s be there for our fellow man.