Holiday Seasons – “Joy, Pain, Life and Death”
I didn’t realize how I really felt until I responded to a friend on Facebook who shared about their own emptiness during the holiday seasons.
The holiday seasons are deeply sad times for me, beginning with Thanksgiving and ending in late January.
Thanksgiving and Mom: At Thanksgiving, I miss my mother, who always loved that time of year because it was her anniversary with my dad.
Sadly, he passed in 2016 as well.
She loved him so much and this was her special time to celebrate the love of her life and the family they had raised.
It is also the time of year she told us all she had made her decision to not fight her bladder cancer. She had decided to die.
There is a part of me that will never forgive her for not wanting to fight. Selfishly, I needed her. She needed to fight so she could be with me. We needed more time.
We had spent so many years not being very close, but as my children grew and she mellowed, we became closer and I found that I enjoyed our long dialogues.
She was a history teacher and was passionate about World and American history. In particular, she loved political science and enjoyed picking on me because I was her “hippie, bleeding heart, tree-hugging, liberal child.” She used to say to me, “One day you will grow up and be a Republican.”
Gosh, I miss her socially unacceptable, salty way of telling everyone exactly what she was thinking.
I also miss her beautiful hazel eyes, especially the last time I looked into them.
She asked me, with tears in her eyes, if I thought she’d go to heaven. I told her, “Mom, I know you are going to heaven. God has only good planned for those who suffer as you have.”
Mom’s response, “But I’m not good enough. How could Jesus love me?”
Without any hesitation and with no doubt in my mind, I told her, “Mom, God loves you and always has. You are beautiful and wonderful in His sight. He is waiting for you with loving, open, and merciful arms and it is a place of great joy. I wish I could go with you.”
She then closed her eyes and she never spoke to me again. She died the next day, Jan. 20, the day before my birthday.
Christmas Joy and Pain: This is perhaps one of the saddest and happiest times of the year for me.
As a music director, I throw myself into my work as I prepare, rehearse and present the joy of the season through music.
I must watch other families attend church together and feel joy in my heart for their family unity and happiness.
At the same time that I feel such happiness at seeing the children, grandchildren, all the tiny faces of joy, I also feel the emptiness in my heart and soul that was once filled by my own children, my own family growing up.
I feel the complete joy of the season, as shared through the liturgy, and the beautiful music and colors of the season, but I also feel the sting of disappointment and the intense wound of the rejection by my own children.
They are now all grown and some are confessed atheists, who publicly denounce and mock everything about my Catholic faith and traditions.
After the beautiful and exhausting celebrations of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I go home to only my pets and the empty space that a Catholic family with traditions and love should fill.
It is not a space that can be filled by another family. It is a large, gaping, deep wound that no amount of Christmas cheer can fill, and one that will never truly heal.
Christmas is an empty space that a family once filled. I fill it with coffee, reading, science, sleep, prayer, love of my pets, and music.
New Year – Birth and Death: Every year, on New Year’s I have a glass of wine or champagne and ring in the New Year either with friends or just alone with my loyal and loving pets.
This night is not so horrible for me, but the rest of January is a time of deep, personal reflection and contemplation. It is also a period of intense pain and loss.
My mother died on January 20, just one day before my birthday.
That day I remember her but am not overwhelmed with sadness. I see it as a day to celebrate her life.
On my birthday, I always celebrate my own birthday out of respect for my mom, who always celebrated our birthdays.
She gave me life and that is one thing for which I am eternally grateful. I love LIFE. I love every sunset. I love every shooting star. I love sensing the world around me. It is truly a gift and I praise God too for every single day.
The day after my birthday is when I feel the emptiness creep in and I am challenged by the darkness.
My mom always got my birthday mixed up with my older brother’s birthday. He was born first, so of the two dates, she reasoned that his birthday must be the 21st. I was second, so I must have been the 22nd.
I always used to laugh about it and make fun of her when she got it wrong each year.
The year I turned 33, I decided to just go with it.
My mom called that day with her usual, cheery, birthday query, “Dianna? Is today your birthday?”
To which, I responded joyfully, “Mom! You remembered!” Haha. It made my day, and every year after, until the year after she had passed.
The pain of losing mom didn’t set in for me until the year after she had passed.
She had suffered so with her cancer, that I was actually relieved to see her no longer in pain.
The year she died, I was still too numb to feel the depth of loss. But the next year, when the call didn’t come the day after my birthday, THAT was when it hit me right in the gut.
I was literally sick to my stomach. I was sad. I was angry. I was so distraught. How could she have been so selfish to leave me?
As the years went on, I was less and less mournful, but I always had a twinge of sorrow at the thought of never hearing her ask me if it was my birthday again. I still miss her terribly.
Losing my babies: If losing my mom near my birthday wasn’t enough to destroy January, my only daughter, my youngest child, decided to move out on January 25th of her senior year of high school.
One day she was there and the next day she had her friends and a truck and I wasn’t supposed to take it personally.
Her boyfriend had determined that living with me was stressing her out, so naturally, I should be good with her just moving out before her graduation.
I was completely and totally devastated. It was the single, most destructive thing another human being had ever done to me personally, on purpose.
The devastation of that day even overwhelmed the fact that the very next day was also the anniversary of the death of my second of four sons.
He was born in the second trimester and I had to give birth to him alone and feel him struggling for life until he stopped moving his arms and legs.
He came too early, couldn’t breathe, and died. The harsh reality is that not every pregnancy ends with “a positive outcome,” as the nurse said to another nurse before they left me to deliver him alone.
January is now the anniversary of the two most traumatic and horrible losses, I’ve ever endured in my life. Both losses were totally out of my control and both deeply and mortally wounding for this mother.
In one month, I mourn the loss of my mother, celebrate the life she gave me and mourn the loss of two of my five children, my babies.
Why share the pain? The holidays can be a very rough time in many people’s lives. I am not the only one who suffers from seasonal sadness and depression.
In some ways, it is extremely normal and perhaps necessary as we each work through our losses in life.
Some wounds never heal and some need an iterative process so that healing gradually allows us to accept the losses and pain and grow in love and the ability to continue to experience joy and pain. It is therapeutic to some extent.
If you know someone who is blue at this time of the year, don’t scold them for holding onto pain. Don’t try to fix their sadness with replacement therapy. Just love them.
Allow them to express their pain and give them the space they require to endure.
Let the tears flow. It is part of being alive.
“I do not share this because I want pity or anyone to FIX my pain. I share it to raise awareness for those who truly suffer during the Holiday Season.
“To be alive is to experience both joy and pain.”
Sciencegranny, C. Dianne Phillips
November 18, 2015