Hello friends, and I hope this finds everyone having a very warm, wonderful, and blessed holiday season. We are almost out of 2019- how did that happen?
As I sit with my tea still enjoying the glow of the Christmas tree several days after Christmas, surrounded by my children happily playing with their gifts, still caught in the magic of the Christmas feeling- I can’t help but to feel the need to acknowledge that familiar feeling of a heavy, sensitive heart at the holidays due to the loss of family gone and those slipping away.
My beloved Aunt who has become a second mother to me since my mother- her sister’s- passing, is in the end stages of a cancer that she has fought more bravely than I could ever imagine anyone else ever doing. She received the news of it’s return around the same time of her husband’s death. She dealt with his passing and her own news- all on her own so far away from me and her family here. I want so badly to be with her… to be near her in this time, but also to share in this time with her. To share stories and reminisce. To hold space for one another as families need to do. I miss her even more intently now that our family has dwindled so much, and because I know her time here is so precious. Each day is a gift. Every hour is a gift. Her fight reminds me to never ever take time for granted. The ordeal and the strength she has shown has changed me in a way that I do not yet fully understand, but what I do know is that time is a gift and I don’t wish to waste anymore on wishing that things were different.
My “overly sensitive nature” as I have heard it called many times, heavily weighs on my heart this time of year. I read not long ago in Victoria magazine about a woman writing of her “difficulties” with sensitivity and how she had also spent her life being shamed for it, and I love what she wrote about it as I take this time to fully allow myself to feel as I sit here reflecting and to be fully aware of it all now:
“…As it turns out, being sensitive is a lovely trait. It doesn’t mean I am thinned-skin; it simply means I am willing to put my heart in someone else’s skin. Once there, I must be very, very still in order to determine if there is more that I can do or give…”Mary Sanderson, Kindly Gestures. Victoria Magazine. Jan/Feb 2020.
Christmas has always been such a magical time for me. Growing up, we had our holiday traditions that were so ingrained in us and our routine, that those acts- the gathering of the family, the unwrapping of beautifully papered gifts so thoughtfully chosen for each person, the secrets whispered by the many, many foster children my mom kept and whose excitement for Christmas was palpable – all these acts were especially precious to me due to the fact I was adopted and had never experienced a holiday until my 8th year of life, and had never experienced the closeness of family. I think because of my abused background, the importance of family was not only somehow made more important to my holiday traditions, but also to my life in general.
Our family began thinning- first my grandmother’s passing in 1988, a loss felt so strongly- not the least of which at the holidays- and my uncle’s passing in 1996. He was a man among men- gentle yet strong, loving yet reserved, a gentle giant that could do anything it seemed to me, but most importantly- he was the man who gave a me the safety within his arms and life that I would not be hurt physically or that he did not want something more from me in exchange for being a father figure. It took many years for me to trust any man- and it would not have ever happened if it had not been for this man. I owe him and now his memory so much. A true gentleman whose patience, kindness, and love brought a scared little girl terrified of men out of her shell and made her able to trust. A man I still miss keenly and whose presence will always be missed in my life. I wish I’d had more time with him. I wish I could of told him what his life meant to mine.
A few years later, my mother’s passing solidified the disintegration of our family as I knew it. Her passing took something of me with her. A firm foundation- a knowledge of who I was and where I was going. The rock the family seemed to depend on without realizing we did. Strength that held up our family and the glue it seemed that held it all together. Her shoes were too big for me to ever fill. I tried for many years to honor her memory and her life in continuing with her life’s work in keeping my invalid “sister” (not biologically related but I spent every single day of 30 years with her), and the rituals she fulfilled for the family. I saw the sacrifice of my education and job offers and relationships as honorable and thought I was doing what she would of wanted. I see now that I was only hurting myself and setting myself up for a great deal of pain and sorrow that turned into a hurtful regret over the years. It took me so many years to figure out that I am not my mother. And that she would not have wanted me to be her. She would not have wanted me to walk in her shoes- to hurt, to uphold, to be that glue. She would of wanted me to live my life and make my own choices- not hers. I have learned these lessons slowly and with a great deal of emotional pain that I brought on myself. The growing pains were not something I would want for anyone- and I plan to make certain my own children know they must lead their lives for themselves and never, ever second guess this or their own hearts.
While I was buckling under the pressure of being my mother, my life simultaneously stood still and took wrong paths at the same time. My family continued to disintegrate and so many hurts collided in on us and tore us in to different directions and we became estranged. My other uncle’s passing which I was not permitted to attend, my husband’s family members passing away. And then the estrangement of his family- from each other-and from us.
I feel the weight of this loss but understand that life isn’t about holding on to a picture perfect idea of who our family should be or what we should do in it. I cannot make people see or feel through my eyes. I do not wish for any of them to know the hurt I have felt to understand me. I have come to realize that I am the person God made, and with all my faults, I can be loved and deserve to be loved. It is a family’s job to love a person- their family– through their faults and to accept them, but whether my family chooses to do this or not, I no longer allow it to define me.
So while I can remember that this was a Christmas some of our family chose not to honor their loved one’s memory in my children’s lives, or that other family chose to exclude us once again, or that we made new memories- and hopefully new traditions- with unexpected family- we are still making memories- as our own little family. We can still enjoy the season for what it is- and remember our blessings and not be weighted with guilt, regret, or hurt. And it is in this way, I can find who I am now. I can be still and sound in the knowledge of who I am. And I can enjoy a holiday without the familiar pull of my heartstrings from loss and regret. I can be happy- and sentimental and sensitive all- without attaching my self-worth to the memories of family- and times- past.
What did you marvel on this Christmas? Do you have family hurts that weigh on your heart and mind at Christmas or the holidays? Please share with me, if you feel like sharing or talking, in the comments below. I would so appreciate hearing your words of wisdom on how you dealt with family issues/loss/grief. Let’s go in to 2020 together, knowing that we have each other – that family is more than blood – and that family can be who we make it.