Say kids, what time is it? For those of you old enough to remember, I’ll tell you right now, “it’s Howdy Doody time” is not the correct answer.
IT’S THE HOLIDAY SEASON!!!
Are you surprised?
Truth be known, probably not. If you get catalogs by mail, then you’ve been overrun with the things for at least the last month. If you shop on-line and forgot to uncheck the sneaky little box that proclaims your interest in receiving emails from the company, then your inbox has been flooded with offers and discounts and promotions and all sorts of temptation. And if you’ve gone anywhere then you know half the world is already festively glittered and beribboned and glowing with a million little twinkly lights. Halloween and Thanksgiving didn’t stand a chance.
None of which has anything to do with today’s topic, other than announcing the onslaught of events that produces anxiety for a great number of the population . . . not because they hate the holidays . . . not because they despise the hustle and bustle and rushing from one thing to the next while trying to maintain some semblance of sanity. It’s because they’re grieving. They are suffering from loss in whatever form it may have arrived—and with that arrival, most all the joy of the season packed its bags and left.
The remarkable thing about Grief is that it consistently overstays its welcome—especially since it was never truly welcome to begin with. Just because you’ve survived the first holiday season doesn’t mean the second one will be any easier. Most likely it will actually be harder, I think largely because we’re prepared for the difficulty of dealing with all the firsts that follow a loss. We understand the first birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, anniversary of their departure will be terrible. But we mistakenly believe the rest will be better. More time will have passed—more time to adjust to the absence and the new normal with which we have been afflicted. And then the second birthday and Thanksgiving and Christmas and anniversary roll around and hit us like a Mack truck. We had not steeled ourselves for their arrival. We were not prepared to face them because we believed preparation was unnecessary. And we were wrong.
So what does one do during a season that is mired up to its eyeballs in traditions—traditions that are a double-edged sword? On the one hand, the honoring of those traditions can bring a sense that perhaps not everything in the world has gone awry. These are rituals that can remain unchanged, that will continue from generation to generation. But on the other hand, every tradition is steeped in memories and those memories can be overwhelmingly painful, no matter how long it’s been since life was so drastically altered.
You want to know another remarkable thing about Grief? It affects everyone differently. Whatever their reasons may be, some need those traditions to survive this time of year. Their rituals come bearing comfort and peace. They want to . . . they need to engage in the activities they have celebrated for years. Those celebrations offer them stability in a very unstable time and a connection to those they have lost as well as to those who remain. But others? For others, being forced to observe traditions that are laden with memories is only going to devastate them. They don’t want to . . . they can’t involve themselves in these activities without losing what little grip they still have on their own sanity. So new traditions evolve, traditions that still honor the season but offer a refuge from the overwhelming nature of Grief.
And you know what? Either path is fine. It’s why you can read the title to this post either way, depending upon whether or not you use that little word in the parentheses. If you need the traditions, then keep them. If you need the change, then change. There is no law that dictates one above the other.
Sometimes, it’s all about survival.