A few years ago a dear friend was flying to Atlanta with her brand new first baby. Our third baby was just two months old. Both of our family plans fell apart because of the flu. My in-laws couldn’t come because they got the flu, and she couldn’t stay with her family when she arrived because her nephews had the flu. It was so hard for everyone, but as moms we felt the best decision was to protect our fresh out of the oven babies. So she came and spent Christmas with us, waiting for fevers to clear at her sister’s house. It was a strange Christmas. It was a lovely Christmas. It was a hilarious Christmas. It was a sad Christmas. As we toasted over our makeshift Christmas dinner, tears spilled from her eyes and she began apologizing, afraid I would think she wasn’t glad to be with our family. I was feeling all the things too. I loved having my dear friend with us, but I also really wanted my kids to be spending Christmas with their grandparents and for my husband to not be missing his family. With tears welling up in my own eyes, I stumbled through something like, “It’s okay. This isn’t what either of us wanted. I’m sad too. I’m glad you are here.”
As we move into the holidays this year, I’m trying to figure out what heart exercises I can do to prepare myself to feel all the competing emotions. That’s what I do in stress. I plan. Maybe if I find the right way to think about it…I try to find some way to anticipate the hard things so they won’t feel so hard. It never works. Situations feel hard because they are hard. New plan…no plan…I don’t know. I’m telling myself that I will let myself feel all the things, the competing emotions, the messy confusing thoughts, the loss and the missing, and the joy of the simple. I will craft some special moments to fill the space left empty this year. Because there is no candle light church service, we will light our own advent wreath quietly at dinner on Sunday nights. There is no winter festival in our city center, nor snuggles with Santa and I can’t come up with substitutes for those. There will be no giant hugs for people I don’t see often, so I will be even more grateful for the snuggles from my husband, my kids, and even my dog. There will be no piling around tables with the people we love the most (that is the hardest one), but the five of us will have beautiful meals because my husband and I are actually really good cooks. We will pile on our couch, just the 5 of us, for movies and cookies. We will find ways to fill the space with our own little family. I will intentionally choose to do some things differently because the usual way feels off. The big Christmas wreath that usually goes over our mantle, with drapey garland is replaced by a simple print and understated candles. I will enjoy the deep breaths of the slower pace and I will miss the buzz of various usual celebrations. I will love it, and I will hate it.
So that is my plan I guess. I will try my best to give space for the emotions that feel good and the ones that feel bad. I will see the beauty that is in front of me, and I will be sad missing so many traditions and people.
I will not stuff all the emotions, slap a smile on my face and force myself to only look at the positive. I will be kind to my future self by choosing to be brave, honest, broken and resilient as I navigate this holiday season, because I believe that on the other side there is a stronger and more beautiful version of myself. My family deserves that better me. The world deserves that better me. I deserve that better me. Here’s to hope and peace for the holiday season.