Many folks suffer from it. Most choose not to talk about it for fear of bringing others down. Christmas is the most unselfish and loving time of the year. It is most likely a time that we have emotional links to ranging far back into our childhoods. All of the memories sometimes can lead to an emotional overload, especially if we have lost loved ones that we shared holidays with in our past.
What can we do when the sight of colored Christmas lights or the sound of ringing Christmas bells causes us to dip down into that gloomy state of sadness? Denying that there is something wrong is not the solution. We can tell those closest to us to ignore the fact that we are emotionally wounded, but that just means we are shutting them out and it offers no real solution to where we are in that moment. Instead, it is a much better option to take a moment to verbalize what it is that is distracting you into sadness in that moment. Maybe it is the smell of grandma’s baked cookies. Maybe it is the familiar chorus to a favorite holiday carol that you associate with your mom.
For me, it can be something as simple as red jell-o and an old Buck Owens Christmas song. My dad always told us every single Christmas dinner that he didn’t want any jell-o on his plate because he refused to eat something that moved by itself. Although it was very funny when I was a kid – that memory became so painful when I lost my father several years ago that the thought of red jell-o made me fall into a darkness so deep that no one could reach me. And it wasn’t just the red jell-o. It was old Buck Owens Christmas songs that used to ring through the house all season long that triggered my mind to relive those times in my childhood when my sister and I would anxiously decorate the tree with our granny and stay up until midnight helping bake pies and turkey on Christmas Eve. I would remember with vivid detail the smell of pine needles and scotch tape and the sound of the mixer as it pulverized the potatoes in the old brown mixing bowl.
My sister and I would be so full of energy and anticipation every Christmas Eve because that was one of two times during the year when we would get to visit with our dad. We would put on our jammies and wait sleeplessly with our hearts thundering in our chests for our dad to show up on Christmas morning. And he always did. He would come in granny’s front door at 5:30 a.m. on Christmas morning every year like clockwork. I can remember the tree having only a few packages beneath it the night before. But when the smell of coffee and the wafts of cigarette smoke drifting in from the kitchen awakened us we discovered over half of our small living room floor covered in brightly wrapped boxes and gift bags with large sparkly bows. We could hear the conversations going on in the kitchen as the butterflies awakened within our bellies and began their frantic flight. It was never the packages that truly made us happy. It was our dad seated at the end of the kitchen table drinking black coffee in his plaid shirt with the rhinestone buttons down the front. It was the smell of his wool lined blue jean jacket mingled with the faint scent of his familiar yet nameless cologne when we hugged him. It was his funny facial expressions and his endless teasing. It was his laughter.
These memories are all beautiful and touching and they represented a time in my life that was less complicated and less hurried. They are filled with love and joy and excited anticipation. But when I realized that memories so sweet seemed to be causing sharp pangs of regret, loss and helplessness I had to really examine what it was that transformed them from beauty to pain. Of course, it was obviously because I had lost my father. But it wasn’t really only that which had given these soft childhood memories their sting. It was the bitterness I felt at the loss of him. It was the bitterness I felt toward him in some ways for abandoning me. It was the anger I felt because we would never again have that Christmas morning that my sister and I lived for all year long.
It took me a while to realize that what I needed most was forgiveness. I needed to forgive him, to forgive God – and most of all to forgive myself. You see, I was most bitter at me. From a place so deep within me that I couldn’t reach it for a long time I was holding blame and bitterness toward myself for not finding a way to keep him here. My father took his own life June 24th 2004. He had estranged himself from us – his daughters. Nothing was wrong. We had never argued or fought. It was just that his work and his other family obligations had stolen our place in his life. My sister and I had tried to reconnect with him and although he seemed happy for the visits – a large part of himself had been sealed off from us. We later understood that he was suffering from depression.
He had killed himself only a few days after Father’s Day. I had been aggravated with him for the distance that I at that time didn’t understand was because of his depression and I hadn’t taken him a card. Somehow I believed that if I had given him a card that year like all of the others before it – then on that horrible night he would have maybe seen the card as he lifted the gun to his temple and he would have remembered his daughters. And then maybe he would have remembered how much we loved him – and how much he loved us. Just maybe h
e would have stopped for a moment and realized how devastated we would be to lose him from our lives. Maybe he would have reconsidered. But there was no card on his mantle. There was no reminder of his daughters who loved him. There was only him, the depression and the rage. And now that same depression and rage had found its way into my heart. I had to find that still place where forgiveness, softness and allowance lives. It was a process but eventually I did find it. I went through all of the steps – and viewed the situation from all possible angles. And in the end I forgave myself, him – the rage and the depression.
Jell-o still makes me cry. But now it is tears that come from a very different place. I still miss my daddy. Especially at Christmas. But there is no unforgiveness and at the end of the day after the jell-o and sniffles have passed – there is peace.