Growing up I loved the holidays. And not just Christmas, I loved any and all holidays. I loved decorations and traditions and having fun meals and spending time with family. None of that really seemed unique to me. I didn’t know anyone who didn’t look forward to holidays or Christmas. Of course, that’s because I lived in a bubble. I had a happy, healthy family. We lived in a nice, safe neighborhood. I didn’t want for anything. Nothing bad had ever really happened to me before.
In 2004, I was in the last phases of my senior year in high school. I was super ready to leave my bubble. I wanted to experience everything and anything and most importantly, be far, far away. I even applied to college in Scotland (the same one as Prince William obviously cause I thought for sure if we met I’d become royalty…even writing that makes me want to barf).
It was right after Christmas in 2003 actually that my whole bubble burst before I got the chance to burst out of it myself. One day before school, my mom had a seizure. This was not a normal occurrence. She had been perfectly healthy up until this point. A trip to the ICU and about a week later, my mother was diagnosed with a malignant glioblastoma. This is the same cancer John McCain was diagnosed with and passed away from this year. It’s an incredibly fast acting brain cancer and is not curable. It is operable and my mom did have surgery, but that was just to give her a few extra months with us. She was given about a year to live.
Despite all this, I did end up going away to college, but stayed somewhat close to home and ventured out to Connecticut. Sidenote: I love how I thought Connecticut was going to be soooooooo different than how I grew up. Newsflash past Alex: it’s exactly the same only in New England. I don’t regret going to school out there because I met some of my best friends and had the time of my life, but omg how laughable that I picked Connecticut to really get to know the world. Facepalm.
Fast forward to the holidays next year. My mother, who had been given a year, was now in hospice. Honestly, looking back on it, the whole season was a blur. We knew she wasn’t well. We knew hospice meant she would probably die soon. My mother was also very delusional and kept telling us she had hidden presents all over the house, which she had not done. In fact, we barely gave each other presents that year. If we did, I don’t remember it. I just remember being at the Hospice for days and days. And that was my last memory of a holiday with her and it stuck with me for a long, long time.
In the years following, I had become the person who did not look forward to Thanksgiving or Christmas because it was just one more reminder of something I had lost. I lost a parent and we lost our traditions along with her.
I started to not even try to go home for the holidays saying it was too short a time frame to fly back and it would just be easier to stay and go to my friend’s houses instead. I spent many Easters with my friend April’s family, long weekends off at random friend’s parent’s houses. I got really close with my friend Andrea’s family because I basically lived with them for a summer. Any opportunity to not go home was one I took up. Going home was too painful and a lot of people didn’t understand that.
Grief is different for everyone. I know that first hand because each person in my family dealt with my mother’s death differently. My way was distance and complete disdain for happiness around the holidays.
One way we started to cope with the sadness was by traveling. Instead of being in Chicago for the holidays, we would go away instead so we weren’t reminded of how it used to be. Thanksgivings were spent in San Francisco, Saugatuck, and most recently Mexico City. Sometimes we would travel for Christmas too – a few years back we went to London for the holidays and it was one of the best Christmases ever.
It’s been 15 years since my mom died and it’s not something I will ever “get over”. It’s something that starts to slink away and just hurts at the edges when you remember something or you think of something they told you or while eating a meal they liked to cook and it’s a knife right in the stomach for sure every time you think about them, but it gets duller and duller.
I’m glad my family and I were able to work things through, which I recently wrote a whole post about if you’re so inclined to read, and we’ve started our own new traditions – ones that my mom was not a part of and therefore aren’t as painful but still fun for us at the holidays. It hurts less and less to be in Chicago at Christmas thankfully, but what has changed is that I get it now. I get the pain that surrounds the holidays for some people. It’s horrible and lonely and all-encompassing.
And it’s made worse by people who just do not get it. So often friends of mine would want to do holiday-themed activities, or talk about their traditions, or talk about what their parents were getting them for Christmas, and it wasn’t fun for me and they just didn’t understand. My Christmas would never be the same, so talking about the past was not fun because it wasn’t my future or present anymore and that hurt because again I was only 19. My mom should have been around a lot longer and should have seen my kids open presents Christmas morning and enjoy a prime rib dinner that evening, but she would never get to do that.
All of this is just to say, I see you. I see you if you aren’t excited about the holidays. I see you if you can’t see the cheer in the air or if you hate Hallmark movies because they are absurd and make you want to cry instead say, “awwww.” I’ve only just started to come out of the fog and you will too someday. And if you don’t, that’s OK too. There are plenty of ways to avoid Christmas (see above) and you are 1000% supported by me if that’s what you need to do to get through it.