Tinsel and Tears

I've never been able to get through a Christmas holiday without both

I just finished reading "Tinsel and Tears, A Holiday Guide," a snappy little pamphlet that arrived in the mail a few days before Thanksgiving. I do like the title—it pretty much sums up my feelings about this Christmas after our year of losses. In fact, it could suffice to sum up each and every Christmas of my adult life: tinsel and tears. I certainly have never been able to get through a Christmas holiday without both.

I used to call my sister, Jane, every year on the day after Christmas to discuss and analyze how the holiday went. "So how did your Christmas go?" she'd ask.

"Pretty good up until the end, when I yelled at everybody, burst into tears and went to bed," I might say. I tell you, the stress of being the Christmas maestro sometimes puts me over the brink. I've tried hard to re-create the wonderful Christmases of my childhood but never feel I've quite accomplished that feat. Maybe because I'm a grown-up, not a kid anymore. I'll never truly see Christmas through a child's eyes again.

"Oh goody!" Jane would say. "Me too!" Jane and I were united in our high expectations for Christmas, and our dashed hopes the day after. Our after-Christmas phone calls always made me feel better.

This year, I won't have that phone call. My sister died last March. My husband, Jim, will be missing a few Christmas phone calls himself. He lost both his parents this past year. But still the day will come and we'll celebrate it. Christmas is as inexorable as death and taxes. You cannot escape it.

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The signs of the holiday are everywhere and, in my current state, some of them are extremely annoying. Last night, for example, I passed a lovely newly remodeled home in my neighborhood. The sweet family inside had left their blinds open and could be seen happily decorating an enormous tree in their living room. That tree, sparkling with lights, filled the picture window. The family looked like something out of "It's a Wonderful Life," only in color. I wanted to run up to their house, knock on their door, and shout, "Shut your damn blinds! Who are you? Martha Stewart?" I mean, seriously. Way to flaunt your ostentatious happiness to the world.

I think I may be in that "angry" stage of grief. I'm angry with about half of my friends, or at least people I thought were my friends. I ran into one of these so-called friends at a holiday party last week. Not only had she not sent me a card or a note after my sister's death, she didn't mention it to me at the party. So, she's out, struck from the ever-lengthening list of people who are no longer my friends. Basically, if you have said nothing to me about my grief this year, you are off my Christmas list. No cards for you people. No Christmas fudge, either.

Along with "Tinsel and Tears" came an open letter for me to fill out and send to all my family and friends. "Dear friends and family," it began, "This year I am downsizing my holiday activities because my heart is too full of grief." It's a good idea, but I can't send such a letter. Our family lost two Christmas matriarchs this year. They can't afford to lose another one.

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In fact, I may have to add on a few new Christmas traditions, just to commemorate the people we lost. But I will try to pick through the old traditions. I'll pick the things I like about Christmas and get rid of the things I don't. For example, I told my kids not to expect Santa Claus. Sounds cruel, but my kids are 29, 26 and 23 years old. Time for them to start piling presents for ME under the tree. I will reach out more to my extended family. I still have a brother and another sister; they'll get something in the mail from me. I'll send Christmas cards to my family and friends who have shown they care. I'll try to make time for the people I love.

Basically, I hope to survive the holiday season without having a nervous breakdown. I hope to experience some semblance of the spirit of love and charity that Christmas is supposed to bring. But if you see me raging at the neighborhood Christmas carolers or walking past the Santa with the donation bucket, forgive me. I'm just not myself.

Tags: family