I know how tough this is – and how tired we all are. A vaccine is coming, but certainly not before 2020 is in the rear-view mirror and the holidays are upon us.
Let me say first and foremost that I hope and pray that your family has been spared Covid. Mine hasn’t. I realize that I’ve expanded my family over the years through genealogy – which means I have more people to love – and more to lose.
I’ve lost both a close cousin and more distant family members (yes, plural) as well – not to mention one who is quite ill as I write this. And that doesn’t even take into account the Covid long-haulers.
I’m sick to death of not seeing my family. The holidays are upon us, and I had to do a reset. Let me explain.
2020 has been about loss, pure and simple. But we have to get through the next few months with as little damage as possible.
I remember the year that I couldn’t go home to my parents because bad weather and icy roads interfered. On the morning we were to leave, Mom called early, crying, and told us not to come. We both cried. We had never been apart at Christmas. Even the year tragedy struck, we were together. But I knew she was right, as much as I didn’t like it.
Left up to my own devices, I would have told her I wanted to try it and I could do it. She said, “No, don’t be ridiculous – it’s terrible. Don’t leave, I can’t live with you or your kids’ death.” Truthfully, I would have gambled with my own life, but not that of my kids – and our destiny was tied together. What was I even thinking – certainly not logically with my brain.
Next, I had to tell my kids we couldn’t do what we had done every single Christmas since they had been born.
I didn’t want to ruin their Christmas – even though I was pretty sure mine already was.
I knew my children’s reaction would be predicated upon mine.
So, I sucked it up and put the most positive spin on the situation that I could. I explained to my kids that we were going to have two Christmasses that year. One at home and one later. That we weren’t going to be able to go to my folks house that particular day – BUT – that we would all be safe. I named all of the people one by one who wouldn’t be traveling and asked if they wanted to be sure they were safe. “Yes, yes,” they agreed to every name. Suddenly, it wasn’t about just us anymore and they agreed that staying home was the best idea.
I explained that no one would have to worry about anyone else having an accident. That SANTA would be able to find us – AND – that we’d get to have two Christmasses – not just one.
I expected more crying.
They sniffled a bit and asked if they could call their grandparents. Of course!
My Dad got on the phone and pretended he was Santa. Now both of my kids KNEW he wasn’t Santa, of course, but they still had a great deal of fun.
He told them that Christmas would be even better for any number of reasons that I don’t remember. I do remember them laughing back in the day when there were only two phone extensions and one child was on each one so I wasn’t privy to the conversation.
Truth be told, I was incredibly relieved for two reasons:
- That we were all safe.
- That my kids weren’t devastated.
I realized that celebration is not about a particular calendar day – but about the people we love. And sometimes being present for people we love means to keep them safe even if we know it’s going to make them sad, or mad.
We have it in our arsenal to find the positive and to change our perspective – just like my Dad did.
Understanding that negative reactions, from tears to anger to condescending criticism stem from a place of pain. Try to focus there and not on the behavior of the person and how it makes you feel.
Here are four ideas that might help you celebrate in a new way this holiday season.
Idea #1: “I Remember When”
If you start a positive “I remember when” conversation, family members will join in. You’ll soon find that people are teasing each other and laughing.
“Hey Dad, I understand you were pregnant at one time??? When was that?”
Now I full well know what those pranksters did, and why. In fact, I know it was a fundraiser, but never let reality stand in the way of a good family legend. The retelling will GUARANTEE laughter and sharing those stories with younger generations who might think these discussions are just wonderful.
Idea #2: Zooming Favorite Picture and Gratitude
I never really thought about it before, but using Zoom technology allows people who might have not been able to attend before to be included now. In the future, as some people do gather in various places, perhaps Zoom connections between various “pods” or people who can’t attend would make the holidays even better and relieve the loneliness for people who can’t attend in person.
If you arrange a Zoom, Skype or other family meeting, you can ask for each person to bring their favorite picture – maybe of another family member.
Here’s mine with my step-Dad, the day I got married. I can’t even begin to express how much I loved that man and how terribly GRATEFUL I am to have had him in my life. (Should I mention that he pointed out where the back door was in case I wanted to change my mind???)
Gratitude makes everyone feel good and good memories just wash over you.
Favorite pictures engender positive stories that will make everyone smile and perhaps give us the opportunity to tell someone how much we value them. Right now, that means more than ever.
Idea #3: Rethink Traditions
Yes, yes, I know. Turkey, mashed potatoes and dressing is traditional – but only because we’ve made it that way.
How about a new tradition, or maybe reviving a very old tradition? Even in a colder climate.
How about meeting, if you live close, to take a family walk – outside – socially distanced and with masks if you’re within several feet of each other. You can each bring snacks and drinks or picnics for your own family. You can sit on park benches or at picnic tables if there is no snow. Rethink cold.
You can light candles if it’s evening and sing – far apart of course, with masks. You can walk in the woods carrying candles and luminaries.
You can share stories about ancestors and strength and virtue and how you are all loving each other by protecting each other. And you can do this together apart if necessary by Facetime or some other technology on your phone. At least we HAVE the technology to bridge the divide.
Our family began this winter tradition last year with St. Lucia day, walking outside in the snow at night. It was incredibly beautiful.
Protecting each other is indeed the way of bringing light into the darkness.
Idea #4: Reschedule the Holiday
One winter, Mom couldn’t find all the ingredients she needed for her traditional sugar-cream pies at the holidays.
So, she punted. She had frozen strawberries we had picked, cleaned and frozen together in the summer and she had the ingredients for shortcake.
We had strawberry shortcake with strawberries from her garden for Christmas dinner. And you know what? We had that every single year after that too.
Shortcake became a cherished tradition because an existing tradition had to be changed.
It may help you feel better now to reschedule a “Thankful Holiday” in the summer where you can be outside if necessary.
You’ll all be thankful that everyone stayed safe and EVERYONE SURVIVED TO BE THERE.
Help for You
If you are struggling, and we have all struggled this year, might I suggest you create a playlist of music for yourself.
Music soothes the soul. Singing along lifts your spirits.
Here are some to try:
- Wolf Song – Nordic Lullaby
- Hallelujah – Carrie Underwood and John Legend
- Perfect – Ed Sheeran with Andrea Bocelli
- This is Your Fight Song – The Piano Guys (Scotland and kilts – a must watch)
It’s hard to be brave enough to be the one who says “no” this holiday season with grace and love, knowing that not only will you miss out, but that some family members may be angry. I can’t help but think about the alternative. As I’ve explained, I love them enough to overlook their anger to keep them, and everyone else, safe.
It’s Really About Next Year
Yes, not seeing family at the holidays is a sacrifice – but think of it as the life-saving, life-giving, most loving thing we can do for those we love. It’s really about us and THEM being around for Christmas, and the holidays next year – for our own family members and other people’s family members too.
It’s about love and making good memories out of a difficult situation. Lemonade for Thanksgiving.
You got this!
Let’s make this holiday season forever be remembered as the year we, together, saved everyone by celebrating a different way.