“Oh, that’s nice. Palm trees are nice.” My dad said as we were sitting in the car staring at our new home. I could see the pure joy on his face, but I was confused as I looked over at him. He was overcome with relief even though we all knew he was enduring piercing pain in his spine due to a massive tumor. Excitement filled his eyes as he realized this was the home he wanted to move his family in. His elation was contagious, you couldn’t help but be overjoyed.
It’s the Christmas season. What is intended to be a time of merriment can sadly be a time of painful reminders for too many. I believe there are three types of reactions to grief or pain during the holidays.
The first is the reaction of complete isolation. We don’t want to celebrate Christmas because, well, why should we? It will never be the same again. Nothing will be as it was and it feels more painful than joyous. Then, there’s the reaction of burying. Instead of allowing ourselves to grieve or feel the emotions of this time, we tend to bury everything and drown ourselves with activities, work, friends, etc. to ignore reality. Lastly, there are those who decide to go on with life. They honor the past, yet learn to accept the future and create a surrounding of thankfulness. I’d like to say I am consistently in the third category, but sadly, that’s not always the case.
Two Christmases ago, my dad was on hospice so I came home from school for a few weeks. One night, I was standing next to his hospital bed at home by the window. I noticed the palm trees out back were wrapped with white lights and I immediately wanted to point out something positive to my dad who had been bedridden for several months. “Daddy, look at the beautiful Christmas lights on the palm trees!” He tried so desperately to move his head enough to see the lights, but just a simple movement would shoot excruciating pain down his spine from the rapidly growing tumor. “I…I can’t see them baby.” I could hear the disappointment in his voice and I knew I had to react in a way that wouldn’t cause him to feel as if he had failed his baby girl. Still looking towards the direction of the backyard, tears began streaming down my face when reality kept sinking deeper and deeper in my heart knowing this could possibly be his last Christmas. “It’s ok, daddy.” I said with a lighthearted tone and a forced smile on my face, “They’re not as beautiful as other Christmas lights we’ve seen before! Like ones in Germany or Disney World.” A small smile formed on his face and a long sigh filled my heart knowing I had handled it okay.
If you find yourself having more moments of depression than joy during this season, then I hope this encourages you knowing you’re not alone. A lot of us have gone so long with the same traditions and we never think they could possibly change. When they do change, we want to occupy ourselves with things full of insignificance, other people, the internet, or anything else that could indulge our minds. I am also guilty of doing this. I will do whatever it takes to try and “feel” the same way I did in past holidays.
When it was my dad’s last Christmas, I went into hyper mode desperately trying to decorate the whole house because I wanted something, anything to be the same as it once was. I will also plan as many cheerful, holiday activities as possible and hope they will bring me happiness. You know what? They never do. Decorating a tree doesn’t fill my mind with joy. Although, I wish it did. Going to see Christmas plays and watching movies don’t excite my inner being and cause me to forget about reality. Although, I wish they would. Here’s an even bigger one (if you know me), Disney World isn’t as exciting or fun as it once was. Why? Because all of those things, sadly, remind us of who’s missing in the picture. I’d rather look over and see my brother laughing while watching Elf with that same hideous Santa hat he wore every year since he was a kid and see my dad on a ladder putting up our 100th Christmas church on the shelves. You realize it wasn’t the things that made you happy. In reality, it was the people you were with that caused you to store those memories, places, or things in a joyful place.
The reason I started this blog with a story from my dad is because he is the only person I know who had lost the pleasure of walking, the pleasure of laughing, and the pleasure of living and still appreciated the most trivial thing-a palm tree. This man didn’t need things to rely on, all he ever needed was a beautiful, unadulterated relationship with Jesus and his family. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I will continue to enjoy Christmas, continue to see plays, and will definitely visit Disney World from time to time, but not for the wrong reasons. If you are trying to fill a void in your heart from missing someone, I understand. I understand it wont always be as exciting. I understand your pain and weeping. I understand the facade of joy when all you want to do is stay home and talk to no one. I understand the memories that well up in your heart with grief and the questions of “what if” or “what could be.”
The last thing we should do is come across like we’re okay when clearly we won’t always be okay. It’s human nature for people to move on and you’re still standing there feeling as if the whole world is spinning and you’re stuck in time. If that’s you, please seek help. Seek comfort from the ones closest to you. If you’ve been grasping for too long onto people and realize no results are coming from it, then maybe it’s time to seek God more than people. If you’ve realized your friends repel from helping you, it’s probably because God isn’t the first one you continually running to. He is and will always be the only source of strength you need. He gave us loved ones to console our hearts, not cure them. If you don’t know the Lord, I encourage you to ask Him into your heart. He will be the greatest decision you will ever make, I promise.
Lastly, enjoy yourself. Create a positive atmosphere. Don’t put yourself in a dark room with a melancholic surrounding and the soundtrack from the movie “Inception” playing in the background. Just the other day, my mom and I decided to finish the Christmas trees, but we both began crying before starting. We decided to wait and have more of the family over so we could actually enjoy it rather than it feeling like a depressing task. This next one isn’t new to us-look around you and find something to appreciate. Write down a list of things you’re grateful for and continue to add to that list everyday. Today, I am grateful for my stunning hero who is my mom as well as my incredible prayer warrior, my grandma. I’m also grateful for my beautiful sister, brother-in-law, and little baby niece on the way. I’m grateful for my supportive, Godly boyfriend who is the greatest gift God could’ve ever given me. I’m grateful for my incredible friends who constantly bring a smile to my face. Finally, as I look outside my front window, I’m grateful for those wonderful palm trees and the lesson they taught me a few years ago. And sometimes, like the story I mentioned earlier about the lights, you have to force a smile even with tears on your face because at the end of the day, you care more about protecting the people you love than your present emotions.
I know that if my dad and brother were here they would be more disappointed in me if I didn’t continue to enjoy life. Whether you are handling grief or going through a painful time, I hope this helped. Let’s be the type of people I mentioned earlier who honor the past and accept the future with thankfulness. Let’s create new memories for the Christmas season and be the strength other people look at and desire in their own lives. I know it’s hard, but let’s build a fresh outlook on the holidays. It won’t only be healthy, but it will also be worth it. The gift of life is just too magnificent for us to feel miserable. And Christmas (or palm trees) should be appreciated no matter the circumstances.
I pray you have a beautiful season. Enjoy every part of it celebrating Christ and the ones you love. Merry Christmas!