21 December 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Dysfunctional Christmas

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth;
that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away,
back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!
~ Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1836

One of the “delusions of our childish days” is that everything will remain the same: we will always have snow on Christmas morning, there will always be a freshly cut pine to decorate, the fire will always be lit, the ham will always be coming right out of the oven when we walk through the door and no one ages ~ the entire family will always gather together this time of year.

Then one day you realize that your parents have more white in their hair then you remember [and you have a few strands yourself!]. Your siblings cannot make it for Christmas because they live too far away or they have to work the next day. The Christmas tree is plastic because your father is frail and your mother is too tired. Christmas dinner has to be hosted in the city because your tired mother is terrified of being snowed in with your frail father with no way to get to the hospital in case of an emergency. And it hits you how precious and limited our time together is.

When I first began writing this post, I thought “what a strange time of the year to be meditating on grief and loss and the blues!” But given the huge burden that so many carry around during the holidays, it’s not so strange at all. No family is picture perfect ~ most are dysfunctional, if not downright psychotic! Yet a good many of us spend three hundred and forty-one days of the year either ignoring or denying that fact. Something inside of us hungers for the security and comfort of unconditional love and the warmth of human contact. The hunger is there all year long, lying dormant, controlled or suppressed. But it becomes unbearable during those twenty-four days in December leading up to Christmas Day ~ the season of unconditional love and family.

Grief is an awkward and ungainly emotion, no matter what time of year it is. And somehow our society has this mistaken notion that grief is related only to death. But there are many types of death and loss: the death of a relationship; of hopes and dreams; the loss of a job; the loss of normalcy; even the death of denial [which though painful, is healthy].

The family member of a dear friend of mine was a tragic accident a couple of months ago. He ended up losing part of his right leg. The family is now dealing with rounds of surgeries, decisions about long term care. And my friend is grief-stricken. She is mourning the loss of a normal life for her family and possibly herself. She is mourning the loss of a traditional family Christmas. Instead, they will be celebrating Christmas in the rehab hospital. And it’s all very well to say what a great miracle it is that he’s alive, etc, etc. There is still a loss to be mourned!

One of the biggest complaints of the grief stricken is that friends and family act strained around them, don't bring up the cause of the grief for fear of giving offense or making the grief worse, and some ignore them completely out of awkwardness. When one is grieving, just be there. Even if you do nothing but sit in silence with your friend, they understand and feel your care and concern.

Sometimes we get caught up in our Christmas dramas. We forget that one of the surest ways to assuage our own hunger for unconditional love is to feed someone else’s. [Therapy is another way, but more on that in a later post!] So in the midst of my grief that this might be my father’s last Christmas [although I pray it is not!], and my pique at not spending Christmas in the country with the entire family, I am going to see my friend. We will bake cookies, decorate a tree and hopefully bring some sanity to her insane world of doctors and rehab and family dysfunction. If there is one thing I have learned this year it is that unconditional love is the gift that eventually gets returned. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

May your Christmas be filled with joy, peace and unconditional love!
~ Mikaela