Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When Christmas Is Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For me it started on Dec. 12th, 1985.  The loss of a much anticipated pregnancy turned my holiday upside down.  The bright lights of the season, the smells and the sounds were dulled by a vibrating own heartbeat.

People laughed and sang.  They exchanged gifts.  I didn't get out of bed.  The pain of an newly empty womb was too great for Christmas cheer to erase.  To most, my grief was unnatural so they left me alone in the dark corner of pain I had painted myself into.  No one wanted risk the entering the darkness for me.

Time went on and with the arrival of another son, Christmas became fun again.  We threw ourselves into traditions, family dinners, gift exchanges and all seemed wonderful.  But time changes things.

In time however, most important people in my life would die in the month of December.  While carolers sang about Joy to the World, we buried my aunt.  The next day we would bury my father.  10 years later, I would endure the pain of mastectomy and then in just 11 more days my mother would leave us to spend her first Christmas in heaven.  My little family trudged home in the cold, and curled up together on the couch.  We stared blankly at the Christmas tree and the gifts underneath.  There was no joy as we went through the motions.

That was 3 years ago and I'm thrilled to report there has been no more Christmas deaths in our family. Over the last year I had bewildering physical issues were diagnosed as a chronic illness.  This year I equally looked forward to and dreaded Christmas.  My heart is willing.  My flesh is weak.  As Christmas approaches I found joint pain slowed me down and the task of "Christmas" seems too big to conquer.  The chores of decorating, baking and entertaining just seems too monumental to even begin.

Perhaps you know someone in a season of life where things are not wonderful.  Death, divorce, disease or distress, all impact how much we can do or enjoy.  Someone asked me today, "What are some ideas of things I can come along side you and help you enjoy Christmas."  That prompted this post.

To start with, listen closely for the wistful sound of their voice when they tell you what they love about Christmas.  Then you can figure out how to dive in.

1.  Offer to help decorate.  For me, this was a big ugly cry breakdown. It means carrying bins up from the basement, unpacking, building an artificial tree, stringing the lights, unwrapping each ornament and reflecting on the memory.  It took me three days to accomplish and STILL had to carry the bins back to the basement.  This year I was physically unable to.  So I put up one of those unfold and plug in trees.  I used ornaments from one of those discount stores...."everything you need for the tree".  I hate it.  It broke my heart.  I would have loved someone to tell me, I'll help you string the 1000 lights on the tree, and I'll carry the bins up and down.

While you're at it, bring on the hot chocolate, cookies and Christmas movies!

2.  Bring a crew of teen boys and hang lights outside if you know someone really enjoys outside decorations.  I love my candy canes but they will rest this Christmas in the basement because my neck and shoulder can't handle venturing in the cold to set up the display.  I can't handle the physical effort either.

3.  Prebake dinner for them...roast that turkey,  make 2 pans of your holiday special dishes and share one with that person on your mind.  Keep in mind the importance of PREBAKE.  It's not always the financial cost of the dinner, but the physical toll it takes that causes the problems.   I would suggest to church groups who deliver turkey's to families.  If you are aware of physical or emotional difficulties this Christmas, ask if they would prefer the raw turkey or have someone prebake the turkey to take the challenge off their back.   If you ORDER a meal from a local deli, make sure your friends know if you plan to deliver it, or they need to make arrangements to go get it.

4.  Long distance friends and loved ones can benefit from catered meals from their local grocery store.  A credit card and a quick click of the computer mouse can arrange meals and goodies when you can't do it yourself.  If you have the financial means, gift cards to Amazon, Itunes or other online services are a great idea.

5.  Deliver or mail a box of homemade cookies or candies that we can offer to friends who stop by.  I WANT to bake cookies, but know the process of rolling out dough and putting pans in and out of the oven will make me hurt.

6.  Offer to drive them to the shopping centers so they can pick up their gifts.  I have an elderly friend who mentioned that she has asked her son to help her order something online because she couldn't see to drive at night.  She was disappointed he was going to know what his gift was before she handed it to him and would liked a ride to the mall.

7.  Invite them to YOUR home for a night of Christmas movies and popcorn.  It gets lonely when everyone else is celebrating with family and yours is gone.  Don't forget the single parents who have to share custody with the ex.

8.  See that they can get to church services and make the arrangements if necessary.

9.  Bring them along to the Christmas Cantata, stop on the way home for some peppermint hot chocolate!  ;)

10.  Offer to wrap gifts for someone whose hands has lost their dexterity due to arthritis or disease.

11.  Let them know you value them.  Invite them to spend Christmas with you, if you know they will be alone, also remember the next point...

12  Don't forget to give them space.  The things that make Christmas hard are still there.  The memories of those who have gone on.  The children over at their other parents home.  The college graduate who can't afford to go home.  The expectations people around them have thrust upon them.  People who have Christmas pain can't be holly jolly 24/7.  There's going to be painful days with painful memories.  Be a good friend and support them while they have their ugly cry and hand them tissue until they've got their grief out.

Listen and ask first before showing up at their door with 5 lbs of cookies, 10 lbs of tinsel, a turkey and a preplanned day in the city mall.  Accept they may have limitations that despite how loving and caring you are, the trip to the city to see the lights and hear the college choir MIGHT be a tad much for them.

13.  Remember it's okay to allow them down time.  The newly bereaved NEED time to grieve and if it means skipping Christmas this year, that's okay.  You can ask if you can do any of these things, but don't be surprised if they are too numb to care.  When a friend is sitting with a dying loved one, let them be aware of your invitations and offer.  Most likely they will choose to stay close with family at that time.  But it's nice to know you're not forgotten there in your grief.  It's hard to deal with death at Christmas.  It's even harder to feel like you've been left alone to cope.

Having both of my parents die at Christmas - though 10 years apart, I will say it was so nice to arrive home from the services to a message from a friend that she had a hot casserole to bring over.  There really wasn't any Christmas for us that year. I don't really remember it.  I'm sure the gifts were exchanged, but that hot dinner delivered when we were cold, tired, grieving and numb...that we all still remember.

12.  Last, don't forget to arrangements a few days after Christmas to clean up the decor and get the trash out.

May we all have a blessed Christmas this year!

*My thoughts and prayers go out to my friend Laura as spends this season at her mother's side, loving her into eternity.

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