Holiday spirit

Nearly every morsel of me wants to title this blog…bah humbug…but that little light of hope I carry around won’t let me do it.  The holidays are upon us and well, they are bringing me down.  At least I think it’s the holidays.  I’ve had so many changes this year. The largest one, taking a new job hasn’t been what I had hoped. My personal life, well, I’m not sure how much personal life I have because I work a bunch and it is catching up with me. My boys just aren’t themselves.  Is it really as simple as we are back in the midst of the holidays again and our broken hearts surface again in a more distinct way?

I really do have a hard time some days sorting out which is which.  Are some of the things that bring me down just normal things or am I taken down more deeply because of my widowed soul.  I know many people struggle with work, children, balancing their lives every day. Is the acute pain I feel because down deep, I know my life would have been very different if cancer hadn’t knocked on my door nine years ago and taken the only man that could put up with me?

It has been a very long several weeks.  Really, it has been a long semester.  The new job I took, shuffled our lives around so much.  That coupled with the fact that it was necessary for me to take on coaching for extra income the last six weeks has exhausted me.  I was already feeling pretty guilty about how much time I am with my boys, but add coaching and I only see them for three or four hours a day, if that.  I feel like that out of touch parent.  They spend more of their days with other people.  The time we are together is not quality time because it’s catch up time.

I’ve been trying over the past several years to let my social life back in too.  I’ve had a bit of success, but I think the more I let it in, it compounds the loneliness. Once a month or so, I have a night out and then the nights home feel quieter, lonelier than before when I was just used to being alone at night. Does that make sense? I think again, changing jobs has a huge impact here too.  Teaching in high school is a much different beast than teaching in an elementary school.  I’m not sure if it’s just this particular place or high schools in general, but the apathy runs deep and I finding myself disappointed in my choice.  I love the kids and the teaching, but miss collaborating with colleagues.  I keep telling myself that it takes time to build new relationships in a new workplace, but now I’m not sure if that’s it.  I miss my former colleagues very much.  I miss a work place that fosters building relationships and models it.

I also had very sweet, dear friend let me down in a way I never thought would happen.  I trusted this friend with a very vulnerable part of me.  A place of respite and safety for me has disappeared.  I am so hurt by this and what appears to be a lack of care for the disappointment that my heart is broken.  It really makes me wonder if it’s worth it to put that trust in someone, anyone really.  So, I don’t know if it’s just a normal disappointment that’s hurting my heart or is it my own abandonment issues that make it impact me more.

All these pieces of my life march into the holidays with me.  I see the spirit around me rising, but I’m feeling more broken this year.  My fragmented heart is feeling its scars. I am thinking about my boys and another year without their dad has passed.  My little one is always so angry.  I’m not sure if it’s a phase or if it’s his grief coming out sideways.  My big one had his heart broken by a girl.  He appears to be handling it ok, but again, that anger comes out.  I wonder if he’ll struggle with the same abandonment issues that I struggle with as he moves into adult life.  I wonder if we will always be waiting for the other shoe to drop when we have happy moments.  We did know happy.  We did know safety, security.  We did know love. The other shoe dropped though.  I really don’t know if I’ll ever be able to buy in completely again.  I want to, I hope I can, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get there.  Well, because I know nothing really lasts forever.  Nothing.

Yet, despite nothing lasting, the light of hope, the memory of love, and the longing to feel safe again will propel me into the holidays the way it always does.  I will go through the motions and hope they become reality. I’ve come this far, I can’t give up now. I know I will hit moments when it feels like life is miserable. I know this.  I know I will hit moments that scream at me that I’ve made the wrong decision, trusted the wrong person, or let myself and my kids down.  I will pick myself up and try again.  I have survived.  I will continue…holidays or not.

That damn hope.

That wonderful hope.

That undying hope.

Jingle, jingle, jingle

Let the season begin…

I am an Advent person. I am a wait in the darkness for the light person. I love the time of reflection, the darkness, the flicker of hope, the waiting and the resolution.  When I worked in church, I loved the scripture linked to the season and sharing it with the kids and adults I ministered with there.  I loved sharing it with my family.

I have at times in my life even been a holiday person.  I used to bake for Christmas every year.  I love the idea of gifts from my hands made with love and thought.  I love that the gifts taste delicious and when I returned each year with the treats, I was thrilled that I made someone happy with something I created for them. I love spending times with friends and family during the holidays.  I love the down time, the football, getting Christmas and holiday cards, the sparkling lights, and I so, so love a beautiful Christmas tree.

So, I think I’m a holiday person…well…but I’m not so sure sometimes.

I’m not so good at the gift thing.  I have never been.  It stresses me out to no end.  I worry, I plan, I fret some more and then I buy.  I don’t buy many gifts…because I’m not real good at it, but my boys…

My boys. My good boys.  My naughty boys.  I am it for them. I am their Santa.  For the first seven years of parenting, my very thoughtful husband considered my weakness and stress about gifts and did all the shopping.  He’d offer me ideas (to help me feel a part of it all), I’d concur, and he’d take care of it.  He just took care of it.  There wasn’t any stress about it, he enjoyed it.  He took care of the kids, he took care of me, of us and even hung the Christmas lights to boot!  Everyone was happy on Christmas morning and I was relaxed and thrilled with his choices and so grateful to him.

Well, he’s been gone for a bit now.  I’ve had several years to adjust and become the shopper of note.  In the early years, it was not too, too hard because the boys were little and their wish list was long.  They wanted toys…Legos, cars, helicopters, and all the regular little boy stuff.  I always still felt the vacancy each Christmas morning when we got up and opened gifts though…they weren’t the thoughtfully chosen gifts that Dave would have found.  They were just items off a list.  They would never make up for the one gift they wanted so dearly that I could never give them…having their daddy back…having their daddy here to set up the electric cars up with them every year or play with the new stuff with or…or…or

So, now my shopping challenge carries the added weight that daddy will never be here on Christmas again…hard to buy anything that will make up for it…

So, every year I agonize.  My guilt makes me want to break my very low funded bank.  My conscience wants my boys to be advent people, I want them to see beyond the darkness into the light, but I know that is not something I can force or wrap in a pretty box.  My heart wants them to be happy.  Every year we try new things.  Every year, we try to remember what helped the year before to make us feel better.  Every year, being the Advent person that I am, I wait for the gift of the light to warm my heart and bring joy back into my home.

The jingle bells have started ringing in the holiday season again.  There is much to do.  There are the regular everyday obligations and then the jingle bells bring the obligations of a holiday sort.  Although I know much of these obligations and expectations are in my head, I still feel, well, I still feel obligated to them.  It is hard to go to holiday parties alone. It is hard to Christmas shop alone, it is hard to send out Christmas cards.  It is really hard to face the holidays alone. I’ve done it by myself now for what seems like a lifetime.  It is still hard.

When I think about how lonely the holidays feel, it makes me glad that I am an Advent person.  I can sit in the dark and wait for the light.  I know that no matter how many Advents/Christmases come and go that there will be light someday.  If I wait patiently and trust, someday, the light will fill my heart with its joy again.  I know that if I am patient with myself and my boys, someday we will have a home that it filled with happiness on Christmas morning.  I know that for every time I remember and give thanks for the years of joy that I had back then, I light a spark of hope for the years of joy that will come.  I believe, no, I know that at the end of darkness there is a light.  I know that it will come back into our lives and fill us up again.

the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned. Matthew 4:16

Absence, Acclimation, Possibility

This holiday season has been a bit different for me.  I am feeling ok…even better than ok most days.  The sense that I am beginning to thrive again is sinking into my soul.  Our seventh Christmas since he died, our eighth Christmas since cancer struck, my first Christmas not completely taken back by his absence.  Each year has been different.  Every Christmas growth has occurred.  From the first Christmas when we left town because I knew I would not be able to handle a Christmas morning alone, to the second and third when I marched through dutifully, to the fourth, fifth and sixth when we began our own traditions and tears came less and less often during the day.  He is always missed.  His absence will always be felt. Losing him will always be woven into who we are, but as year seven holidays begin to pass I think we’ve acclimated.

There were no tears yesterday.  There were no children with deep, sorrowful eyes.  There was no mommy running off to the bedroom to cry so the children’s Christmas morning would be spoiled.  There were two joyful, grateful children who opened gifts and said thank you.  There were hugs that meant something deep.  There were kids playing joyfully (without much sib fighting) nearly all day. There was a mommy who rested peacefully. I have mixed feelings about this one…no one said “I miss daddy” or “I miss him so much today”…I know that we don’t have to say things to still be feeling them, but the feelings of grief never bubbled into words yesterday.  In only one short moment before my big boy went to bed, he came to me with some tears wanting a hug.  He said he’s afraid of me getting old…he wants me to live forever…he doesn’t want to be separated from family again.

Acclimated.

We have acclimated.  We have survived.  We have begun to live a life we are accustomed to now.  We know he won’t be here for Christmas, for New Year’s, for birthdays…well for any day at all.  We know he loved us and did everything within his power to stay here.  We know he died.  We know it changed us forever.  We are living in the change.  We have acclimated.

So what about possibilities?

My heart has always been open to possibilities.  First there was the possibility that I would survive this heartache.  Then there was the possibility that I was open to caring for someone again.  Now, I have been given the possibility to open my heart wide again.  Someone has walked into my life from an unexpected place and wants into my heart.  I am filled with trepidation yet he feels familiar.  I am nervous, but he calms me.  He knows my story and he doesn’t run away…he embraces it.  Possibility.  A chance to risk again invigorates me and terrifies me. What if I give my heart again wholly and completely, only to have it land in shattered pieces on the ground again?

What if I give my heart completely and wholly and everything works out? I don’t know which terrifies me more…

What if my boys open their hearts and have them broken?  I don’t know if I’d survive that one…but what if they open their hearts and find a place of peace that helps them heal?

Possibility? Yes, definitely. Terrifying? Yes, definitely. Calming? Yes-all of these things all at once…

Hope. Yes. Definitely.

Ready, set, go…

On a busy day, I can feel it beginning.  I can feel the stress mounting within the walls of my home.  We made it through Thanksgiving, but that’s just the beginning.  The kids and I brace ourselves for the holidays.  I can almost feel them hunkering down, getting ready to maintain and handle themselves as we watch the world move through the holiday season.

I’m feeling different this year.  I’m not as stressed as I remember being in the recent past.  Things are going a bit better for me though.  I have a job I love, I’m nearly done with my master’s (which translates to no school for me right now), and I’m finding myself looking forward to things more.  Heck, I’m actually going to go to the work holiday party and I’m not anxious in the slightest.

The kids don’t seem to be in the same place.  I can feel their stress building.  Their tempers are short.  Their tolerance is nearly non existent.  I know we all grieve differently, but some days, I wish we could be on the same page.  I know this time of year is so hard for them.  They miss their dad.  They see all their friends with dads around and they know something is missing in their world.  They feel it very deeply and that pain surfaces in anger many days, intolerance other days, and just plain cranky behavior throughout the season.

Holiday season is stressful for any kid.  The expectations, the anticipation, the busy schedule all lead to overload.  Add to my kids’ days that they miss their dad, their mom is busy nearly all the time, money is still tight and many days, they just don’t know how all this will play out.  I do my best to keep expectations in check, make time for some fun, provide low stress days and to be present to them.  Some days though they are just so cranky!  I become frustrated and am constantly asking myself…is it their grief?  Is it normal holiday, kid behavior? When do they need intervention and when do I need to let them work it out?  There is always that voice in my head…would it be different if Dave hadn’t died?  Would we see the same behaviors?  How can I help in the immediate situation and help them build the skills they need to work out these emotions and situations on their own?

I think the family member struggling the most right now is my little one.  He’s only seven.  He was six months old when Dave died.  He never had a birthday with his dad.  He was only 3 months old that first Christmas when Dave was still here.  He has no memories.  This frustrates him.  He is discovering what families with a dad around look like as he spends time with friends and is exposed to more at school.  He is very angry and it breaks my heart.  How much of this is grief? How much of this is his personality? I don’t know.  I do know that he is struggling nearly every day.  His holiday season isn’t what he hopes for…he wants more, he longs for more and as much as I try, I can’t give him what he wants most…his dad.

So, I do my best to make sure that he has time with other father type guys.  My brothers spend time with him.  He spends time with his friend’s families who have dads around.  I think it hurts him and heals him all at once.  I tell him stories about his dad.  I tell him how much his daddy loved him and wanted to always be here with him. It hurts and heals all at once…I hope.

There is nothing I want more for Christmas than for my kids to just feel normal again.  My holiday wish is that the hole in their hearts can somehow be filled by the people and love around them. I know that their dad loved them.  I know that the hardest thing he ever did was leave them.  I know that they will be ok, but when the holidays come…it seems like ok is far away.