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Paint Your Holiday the Way You Want It to Be
Shirley’s husband of 42 years died suddenly this spring of a heart attack. Brittany’s husband has been serving in the US Army in Iraq for the past 9 months. It was going to be their first Christmas together, but he wasn’t going home. Martha is at home and lives in an assisted living facility; Her family is hundreds of miles away. Stuart’s son died; Everyone asks how his wife is doing, but no one asks how she feels. Shelley was recently divorced and was living with her mother again.
There is a myth that holiday sadness only affects the person they love. The truth is that holiday stress and anxiety affects many people—all experiencing different life-changing situations that challenge them to navigate. The reason for the season. For everyone, holiday celebrations will vary; And they will never be the same.
Perhaps, you remember its paintings and covers Saturday Evening Post Between 50 and 60? Norman Rockwell’s paintings always told a story. His paintings depicted American life and values. People flocked to newsstands to buy the prestigious magazine and enjoy the scenes it depicted. His era with Post Ended in 1963, but his masterpieces continue to tell the stories of life as before.
In our lives today, whether we grew up in Norman Rockwell’s time or not, we create visual images worthy of the Norman Rockwell collection of holiday paintings. In our minds, we remember the “ideal” holiday program and the positive feelings surrounding it. Rockwell’s holiday themes depict a cheerful, energetic Santa full of wonder; Perfect families with small children and enjoying special family gatherings; festive meal; building snowmen; and chasing the postman. Everything in his pictures is perfect. Rockwell once said, “Life paints what I want.”
We are influenced by the great images of artists like Rockwell. If only life could always be “the way you want it”. Unfortunately, the realities of life are sometimes harsh. We try to avoid it by misinterpreting the truths and creating a sense of mythical happiness. We struggle through the maze of holiday woes and succumb to myths that complicate our already clouded view of the coming holidays. Grief and the holidays come with the burden of many myths.
What is a myth?
A myth is a story or something that is not true and can be passed down from generation to generation, like a legend. This is often a fake story or a fact that cannot be confirmed. One myth, however, is too easy to believe—Because we want to believe it.
Grief from loss makes us vulnerable to many myths. Things are not always what they seem. Our beliefs and attitudes are very powerful forces in our lives. Our perception of what a vacation should be like based on past vacations and “ideal” vacations. Often, our perception of the holiday may be a myth. We believe that everything has to be perfect or the holidays are not worth celebrating.
What kind of holiday are you picturing this year? Is it a season full of doom and gloom or can you shake off your sadness and create a Norman Rockwell type holiday where everything is almost perfect? Or, at least, a vacation that could be the best.
It is possible to change the myth and create a new reality that will allow us to step into the season with grace and sanity in our control. Here are some ideas on how to bust these myths and replace them with a new reality.
Myth: Holiday sadness begins on Christmas Eve and ends after New Year’s Day or when the decorations come down.
Truth: For some people the holidays can start early. In fact, the holidays can start as early as Halloween. Around our house, the holidays started right before deer hunting season. Usually we were experiencing the first snow and the men would start celebrating the “spirit” of the deer hunt while the women would start building up the “spirit of the season” by shopping. It was a tradition.
The tradition lost its luster after our son Chad died. The harsh reality was- hunting wasn’t as exciting as it used to be and Chad wasn’t going. Some friends gave us a DVD of Chad at his last hunting party at the Shack. It was 14 years since his death. The DVD was placed on our table, as we were both too horrified by its image and feeling the loss all over again. Finally, we played the DVD and with great tears of joy (and sadness) we witnessed the spirit of our beautiful son who loved to “clown around”, dance and hang out with the kids. It was a “good” cry.
The holidays for us still start around hunting season, but it’s no longer about the hunt. Gary gave up hunting, but I didn’t give up shopping. The focus was not around Christmas and presents, but rather on organizing community holiday mourning events and enjoying ongoing relationships with family and friends.
So how do you dispel the myths and create a manageable vacation? Create a time frame for your holiday season…whether it’s a week, a few days, or however long you think the “tough” period will be. Create a signal for yourself that tells you when that period is over. For us, the queue is taking down the Christmas tree. That is our sign comfort That the holidays are over and we can get back to routine.
Be prepared for uncomfortable moments and thoughtless questions and comments. You’re going to get them. In your mind, decide how you will answer and stick to your rehearsed answers. Plan an escape. If you’re in the “capture” setting, drive your own car. Or make an excuse when you want to leave. You decide when.
I can imagine Norman Rockwell picturing this scene in today’s world. Uncle Jack pats you on the back and says, “You’re strong. Keep a stiff upper lip.”
Understanding: In gatherings, it is inappropriate to mention fond memories of loved ones who have died. It makes others uncomfortable.
Truth: The holidays are a time for reflection. Remembering your loved one is essential to your good health and recovery. Stories and memories stay with us for life and are a true source of joy.
Create a safe environment and remember out loud. Say its name and laugh at life’s rich stories. Follow up with tears and a silent “I still love you.” Teach others that love endures forever; You must remember; And this is your reality for dealing with grief.
I can picture Norman Rockwell today. The family can gather around a loosely-knit, well-illustrated collection using the most popular scrapbooking skills. It is a volume of endless pictures that tell a life story through stamping techniques, various memorabilia, anecdotes and written interpretations of a particular event or day. A memory candle burns softly on the same table. Family and friends of all ages share the experience with mixed expressions: smiles, tears, laughter, pointing and hugging.
Recognition: A tradition is something you do for years and don’t want to change.
Truth: Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean we can’t infuse our celebration with new ideas that fit this generation’s lifestyle and present moment.
Every family goes through lifestyle changes—and those changes affect how traditions are continued or discontinued. Kids move away and go to college. Parents become “empty nesters” and “snowbirds”. Teenagers want to spend more time with their friends than relatives on holidays. Elderly parents don’t want to cook; So, they can opt for dinner.
At some point, we seem to be outgrowing traditions like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Maybe a death in the family is one of those things that means “let’s try something new.”
So how do you dispel this myth and create a manageable vacation? Be open minded. Consider changes in other families as well as your own past. If traditions bring up sad memories, change them. Don’t be a puppet and let others tell you how to spend your day. There are no fixed rules. Create a family competition to see who can come up with the best “new” tradition. It is admirable to take pride in working traditions.
I can picture a Norman Rockwell scene with a Christmas tree glowing in red, blue, orange and fuchsia pink LED lights and grandma and grandpa engaged in a spirited game of WII bowling on the big screen plasma television. (They beat the grandchildren!)
Misconception: When another holiday season rolls around, I’ll add to my misery and fall back on old traditions.
Truth: The second holiday can feel just as depressing as the first. And for many, returning to past holiday traditions is no longer desirable.
The second holiday season for us was not as easy as I thought it would be. But since we changed the tradition the first holiday season, it was easy to accept that the change was good and we wanted to do it again.
Remember that grief is a process and each of us needs different amounts of time to heal. Don’t rush the process. If the second vacation is still a bit painful, you can try for a third—and in the meantime work to find peace and let go of past obstacles. The holidays always lack some of the precious moments of the previous year, but that doesn’t mean the holidays can’t be good.
A real positive influence in dissolving holiday sorrow is “giving to another.” Giving is not gifts, but time and self. Every society has people with many needs. Volunteer at charity events. Ring the bell for the Salvation Army. Choose a gift name from the Tree of Giving. Do something for someone that “feels good.”
I can picture Norman Rockwell depicting the change in life as a grieving mom and dad serving a meal in a large kitchen at a local shelter, or comforting someone less fortunate with a loving hand on their shoulder. Church bells toll softly outside the window as delicate snowflakes filter through the streetlights. A bright star – the star of HOPE shines majestically in the distance.
Hope is an attitude of the soul and energy for the soul. It challenges myths and creates new realities. Norman Rockwell’s paintings of the present day may be very different from those of the past. His gift will depict human values that show a deep sensitivity to the pains of life. While it shows “life as I want it,” new examples can testify to victory over suffering—and life “as it is.” Be like Norman Rockwell this year, create a new canvas. Paint your vacation the way you want it to be.
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