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Christmas Past Can Be Haunting

By: Cara Barth

“Christmas is a time when you get homesick – even when you’re home” ~ Carol Nelson

“The holidays are a time to be spent with loved ones” has been imprinted on our psyche from almost day one. Many of us see the holidays as a way to mark the passage of time in our lives. They are part of the milestones we share with each other, and they generally represent time spent with family.

The holidays seem to bring meaning to certain days and we allow ourselves and others to interpret meaning back into them as well. We lay a wreath around the neck of our holidays and christen them larger than life and beyond expectations, especially when someone is absent. We are trained to think through media and memories, and since the holidays are for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with them when a loved one is absent, whether from death, illness, or estrangement?

For many people, this is the hardest part of grieving a loss of some kind; it seems during the holidays we miss our loved ones even more than usual. How can you celebrate togetherness when there is none? When you have lost someone special, your world can seem to lose its celebratory qualities, and holidays seem to magnify the loss.

The sadness feels sadder, the anger seems more bitter, and the loneliness goes deeper. We tend to wrap ourselves in these patterns of loss over and over again, year after year. Our chains of past holidays can become heavy, burdensome, and yet comfortable. As Marley from “A Christmas Carol” explained to Scrooge,

 “You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost.

“I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” ~ Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

Holidays are clearly some of the roughest terrain we navigate emotionally, and the ways we handle them are as individual as we are. However, what is vitally important is that we be present for the loss in whatever form the holidays do or don’t take. These holidays are part of the journey to be felt fully. They can be very sad, but sometimes we may catch ourselves doing “okay,” and we may even have a brief moment of laughter.

Here’s a reminder, you don’t have to be a victim of the pain or fall into the cycle of having the proverbial “ghost” of the past following you year after year, holiday after holiday. When the past calls, let it go to voice mail…it has nothing to say to you. You don’t have to be haunted by the pain or the past. Actually, the true meaning of Christmas and the holiday season isn’t found at the bottom of stockings or wrapped up under trees, but it is in our choice of how we want to keep those we have lost and cherish those we still have in our lives. You can remember and honor the love you once had while still embracing those you have now. It does not have to be an all or nothing scenario.

Whatever you experience, the death of a relationship, whether physical or relational, does not take away a holiday. That is a choice you must make. What if you tried to abandon the self-imposed obligations of holidays past? Release the guilt, fear, resentment and other self-sabotaging emotions to embrace new traditions, new healthy emotions and be present with those who are with you at the moment. Again, we can take advise from the ghosts of Dickens and how certain thought patterns and emotions can “hook-on” and cling to us as children we choose to nurture. The ghost of Christmas Present warns of allowing “Ignorance,” “Want” and “Doom” take over the holiday at hand and steal us of our joy;

“They cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” 
 ~ Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

Finally, I know the holidays can be a struggle, especially if there are “who’s”, “what’s” where’s” and “whys” involved. However, maybe, just maybe, we can begin to embrace the days with taking an emotional inventory. Try to notice and account for how much of your suffering is actually self-induced through judgments about oneself or others, replaying unpleasant past experiences, or fixating on possible problems that have yet to occur based on “what-ifs”.

Due to our bias to focus on past failings, we often fail to give all the positive events in our lives their just due. In order to compensate, we can choose to dedicate some time to remembering what has gone well for us. Make it a habit this season, to reflect on your day and take a short account of what experiences you may have taken for granted. Count the blessings. Day by day release the ghosts of holidays past and embrace the joy that awaits today and in the future.

“The holiest of holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart; the secret anniversaries of the heart.”  ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

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