The Ghosts of Everything Past

The 2018 holiday season has concluded. If you are reading this, I can only assume you survived.  There are 14 (at least) religious holidays alone in the month of December. I celebrate Christmas and can assure you that is plenty.  I have been pondering why holidays are so very stressful and furthermore why we continue to gather when it seems it drives many to the brink of insanity.  My holiday season this year was actually not stressful which gave me some good time to think on it instead of hiding in the bathroom in the fetal position (that was so 2004 me).  But-Why do we do even do this to ourselves?  What is causing all this strain?  So much drama.  There is the obvious.  The excess.  Too much food.  Too much family.  Too much on the schedule.  Too much running around.  Too much alcohol.  Too much money spent.  Too much expectation. Too many personalities. Too large a gap between hopes and reality.  Too much of everything.

I had a mostly idyllic childhood filled with fun holidays.  I know.  Nauseating right?  We had family over.  We had good food.  We had our traditions. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s.  Predictable characters and patterns.  We opened gifts in order of age and on Christmas Eve.  I received Love’s Baby Soft many years in a row.  I ate rolls and cookies for dinner.  We had weird cousins.  My brother wisely remarked one year that we are their weird cousins because if you don’t think you have any in your family…you are the weird cousins.  It’s okay.  Even weird cousins are loved by loved ones and children of God and all that.  And I wasn’t even aware of families who lamented holidays until college.  I was living in a blissful holiday bubble. Also-can we go back to the 70’s?  Bold fashion choices.  BOLD.

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And as I aged and met more and more people, and got married and started to try to meld family traditions and meet all the expectations, I became aware. Acutely aware.  (Commence hiding in the bathroom)

Holidays are not cause for celebration for everyone.

Some are trying to heal from past disappointment.  Some are trying to carry on traditions that are plain unreasonable.  Some are nice quiet people who do not like chaos.  Some people have very difficult names on their guest list.   Some months are tough enough without adding a dinner that includes fatty foods and arguing. Some families are nuts.

A generation (or two) ago families got together and got together often.  Many extended families lived near one another.  (My grandmother lived in Prospect Park in Minneapolis and they had Sunday dinner together.  The entire extended family.  Every Sunday.)  Which is to say that a big holiday like Christmas was just one more on the list of many occasions throughout the year spent with extended family.

But now?

It might be the only time of the year to gather.  People fly all over the country and all over the world to “go home”  for Christmas.  It’s the one time to see the cousins.  It’s the one chance for so and so and such and such to interact.  It’s when we take many more photos because we are all finally in the same space.  Or possibly you are an “every other year” family.  So basically, we have elevated the holiday to either SUPERBOWL or WINTER OLYMPIC frequency and expectation.  And with infrequency comes the pressure to make it the end all be all most special most everything day of the year.  Good grief.  Who wants to try to participate in let alone execute that?

And then layered on top of the heightened sense of expectation can be a thin layer of pain.  Probably for everyone.  This I feel.  I think the common denominator is memory.  The holiday season brings up so many memories of every ilk.  Good holiday memories make me nostalgic and wistful.  Bad holiday memories make me sad and regretful.  Maybe we miss a tradition that got swept away with time.  Maybe we always wanted to start a new tradition but couldn’t.  Maybe we are missing someone around our table.  Maybe we always intend to make Swedish Kringle but couldn’t fit it in this year. (damn) Maybe the joy is missing this year. And ALL of that plus a tired crowd and Uncle Crazy Town starts a political conversation with Grandma.  And….KA-BOOM!

My brother bought me a gift this Christmas.  We are not supposed to exchange per new family rules. But not listening or following any Christmas giving rules might be our most long cherished family tradition.



The acquisition of this set comes with a great story unto itself.  (he tells it better but I’ll summarize) Tracking one down.  40 phone calls to antique stores.  Research.  An hour drive north to pick it up.  Realizing it was not as advertised.  Colorful language.  But this is the set he gave me and I absolutely cherish it.  It’s at least 55 years old.  And while I am hardly passionate about all things vintage…this I adore.  Because it brings it all back in all the best ways.  My dad.  My mom.  Our family together.  Being young and waiting for Santa.  Being in college and still waiting for Santa.  Did you know Santa still fills your stocking in college?  He does because SHE is awesome and magical.  The Tom and Jerry’s.  (If you haven’t had one, you really must.  The rich batter.  The rum and brandy.  The fresh nutmeg.  It truly is a taste sensation.  I recommend one.  I do NOT recommend 3.)  The joy.  The loss.

So I’m thankful for all the shitty holidays.  All the times it just didn’t come together.  The year we were at the Minute Clinic on Christmas Eve.  The year my son gave himself a black eye 10 minutes before family arrived.  Occasionally when a family member lost their minds and said something ridiculous.  When someone forgot the orange juice or didn’t show up or showed up with extra people or when we were all trapped inside in -20 degree weather.  Because it made me appreciate this year.  It was a good one. I was reminded of so many people I have loved and do love and so many shared experiences and traditions.  I appreciate that each year is steeped in tradition and yet a tiny bit different.  And moving away from the pressure of the perfect experience and toward the gratitude helps me enjoy it.  And enjoy I did.

Cheers to 2019.  May we all focus on the micro moments of joy.  Because not every year is great or becomes a favorite…but every year has moments of greatness and creates favorite memories to be cherished down the road.


*Note: LOOK at Santa in 1978 and 1979.  They hired him AGAIN!??? He does not smell like Santa.  He smells like beef and cheese.  For sure.



Grief: If only it could be solved with 5 easy steps

I am grieving a recent loss. It is so fresh, I don’t want to write about the actual loss. It has been less than two weeks. The particulars are still too painful, too sharp and in this case I am feeling the ripple effect of watching others I care about hurting too. In some ways it feels like it happened today, and in other ways it feels like it was 18 months ago. I can’t yet talk about it with any true wisdom or articulation. It will take some time until that happens.

But I can write about the grief. The grief feels familiar.

People often say “It’s a fog” when they grieve. I have said these exact words. But it’s not exactly accurate in my opinion.  And I realize it is different for everyone and everyone has different circumstances and processes…but here is what I think it is…

Grief is not DABDA.  The whole 5 steps of grieving…I don’t buy it.  It’s not a straight line.  It’s a scribble.

Grief is a pair of binoculars.  It is a set of high magnification binoculars that are super glued to your face and brain. I would like to take them off but I can’t. Other people would like to take them off for me, but they can’t. 50% of it is a hyper clarity for the things directly in front of me. 20/10 vision. I am laser focused on few things and I can’t stop staring at them and ruminating on them and the other half, the peripheral vision is just gone for now. Completely missing-that’s the fog half.

Grief is an emotional brainwashing. I have developed a temporary emotional superiority complex as a result of grieving. (It feels familiar from my last loss) From some people I feel very separate. The concerns and laments of others seem trivial and petty and ridiculous. I know they are trivial for a fact because I was just that trivial, petty and ridiculous person a few days ago. Shallower and lighter and happier.  To other people I feel an intense closeness. People who are missing what I am missing. People who are fixated on my fixations. People who know. These are my people right now. There is a weird, sad, inevitable kinship because they don’t expect much from me and I don’t expect much from them. The comfort of low expectations.

Grief is a sniper. Just when you think you are fine, it sneaks up on you. It has been following you, watching you all along, waiting for an inopportune moment to hit. I remember ten years ago I crumpled onto the ground at the mailbox after receiving the LL Bean catalog. I had been doing fine that day and the sight of a chamois shirt sale had catapulted me into uncontrolled hysteria because the chamois shirt lover in my life was gone. I would not ever order another chamois shirt. I shook my fist in the air that day. Damn you LL Bean and your mean spirited catalog mailing. I’m sure I looked absolutely crazy. I felt absolutely crazy.

Grief is a teacher. While I was just dumb a few days ago busying myself with the absolute MOST inane details of life, I’m slightly less dumb right now. Temporarily. I couldn’t give a crap about the school fundraiser. I won’t have lunch with anyone I don’t like. I will read the extra book at bedtime. The laundry can pile up. The errand can wait. I will forgive the minor irritations and mistakes. It’s not worth it. It never really was. I will leave nothing unsaid. I will fast track some plans.   Do you want to know the only common thread that I have seen with people who pass away? They talk about their relationships. I have heard no mention of the time they got a promotion, the dream car they bought, the work, the stuff, the accolades, the disappointments.  It’s always about the people and the time they spent with those people. The people matter.  The people they loved. The people who love them.

Grief is 8th grade.  It is long and ugly and the only way through it is through it and eventually it will get better.  Like 8th grade, everyone is filled with useless platitudes about how to endure it because they simply don’t know what else to say.  So, soon I will be dumb again. The sadness will be replaced by the gratitude, by the memories, by the gift of a wisp of enlightenment that it gives me. I will fill up on telling old stories from old experiences and work on making plans and making new memories for new stories. It won’t always feel like an open wound. Other people around me will not be limping around with their own pain. Eventually it will be more like an old sports injury. It will flare up from time to time but won’t be a bother on a constant basis. It will slowly become part of my story, part of who I am, part of the new normal.

Go easy on the people out there in the world. Go easy on your family and friends. Go easy on yourself. Enjoy the tiny micro moments of happiness when they occur in the simplest form for they will sustain you through grief.

You either know exactly what I am talking about… or

someday you will.