My Love/Hate Relationship with Holidays


My Love/Hate Relationship with Holidays

christmas-20644_640As a kid and young adult, I loved holidays. I loved decorating, baking, and wrapping gifts. Thanksgiving meant lots of great food at Grandma’s house followed by the adults playing cards and lots and lots of laughter. (My mother would laugh until tears rolled down her cheeks at the stories told by her two younger sisters.) My multi-talented grandmother would engage my older sister and I in making season appropriate placecards for the nicely decorated tables. At Christmas she made homemade peanut brittle and toffee to die for. Christmas celebrations included gathering around the piano and singing carols with my siblings, aunts and cousins. In many ways, our family celebrations could have been a Rockwell painting.

I don’t remember ever witnessing any discourse or tension among adults. There was never alcohol at any of these celebrations. It just wasn’t a part of family gatherings, ever.

I married into a family where it became apparent that FIL was alcoholic and some of my (9) sibling-in-laws also developed problems. Gatherings in this family were filled with sarcastic humor at another’s expense and lots of chaos in a tiny house with ever growing numbers of grandchildren. Eventually it moved into a rented hall.

Fast forward to my divorce after 18 years of marriage. Holidays became very painful. My ex had custody of the kids (ages 15 and 17 then) and to keep him happy, everyone knew you have to do what he wants or there was hell to pay. (I knew my ex would lie to them but it wasn't until years later that I found out how horrible the lies, including telling my daughter that I never wanted her.) My son cut me out of his life--totally--for nearly 10 years. My daughter initially told me what a horrible mother I was and lashed out massively. I think they knew in their guts that no matter how horribly they treated me, that I loved them unconditionally. It was safe to lash out at me.

My daughter started seeing her dad in a different light once out of the house and in college. Our relationship is now very good. (She has really struggled with her relationship with her dad, and it was/is so painful to watch her watch walk down a similar path I had been through with him.) After 10 years, one day my son showed up at my apartment, as if nothing had ever happened, to show me the engagement ring he just bought for his girlfriend (who I knew nothing of). That was the way he invited me back into his life. We've never talked about those past years. My daughter and I have talked a lot.

My kids for years, and somewhat still today, cater to dad's desires. So I have always taken a backseat and worked around any holiday plans they have with their dad or in-laws. I didn’t want to add to the stress and demands. So I just would hope to get a chance to see them.

Enter the caregiving years. My choice of moving in with P. and his mom to care for her added to the difficult holidays. My ability to travel was limited both because of finances and caregiving issues. This house was not suitable for entertaining. (That’s a whole story about MIL’s hoarding.)

I hate when people ask, “How was your holiday.” Most holidays in the past several years have been me, P and his mom, just like any other day of the week. (P has no kids, siblings or close relative left.) Somehow it made it easier to just ignore the holidays. (Besides, how do you decorate a hoarders house? There was, however, enough decorations for several houses in the basement along with ample paper and ribbon to supply a wrapping station in the mall.) In the past I could use caregiving as an explanation/excuse to others for not traveling to see family during the holidays. I had to take care of bedridden MIL, which after all was true.

My visions of being a grandmother in a house full of family and laughter well, just isn’t. (That is what I imagine happens at my ex’s and kid's stepmom's house.) Although my relationships with both my kids are now good, I still have remnants of the past that flare up every holiday season and are quite painful.

I heard a quote yesterday:

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
― Joseph Campbell

In some ways I have been making progress in letting go of my vision of grandmother’s house. It is hard though. And the holidays bring pain of other losses. It’s a reminder of those former carees/loved ones who have died: my dad, my mom, P’s parents and, more recently, my best friend of 30 years. Their absence is more intense.

I need to embrace the freedom from caregiving. I need to stop being afraid of rejection. I need to stop hoping I will get an invitation. I need to let go of the fear that if I invite them, they won't have time for me. That was the past. I need to get this house in shape for company, I need to create new traditions and memories. I need to move on. I want to love holidays again.

But it is hard and sometimes just really, really hurts.