Walking In a Grief Filled Wonderland
Was there ever a time when I shopped happily with joyous abandon and filled with Christmas spirit like the two elderly women I chatted with in the ornament aisle at Hobby Lobby today?
Surely, there must have been.
These days, most folks you run into are stressed and moody this time of year. (Precisely the reason I don’t even like going out to grocery shop, let alone do much of anything else for the last five weeks of the year.)
These easily perturbed people are the same ones, however, who will bend over backwards to make sure THEIR holiday season is joyous and memorable — or at least appears to be.
Their families are spoiled rotten by Santa Claus. Their calendars are filled with every holiday event they can get to. They host an epic party with all of the trimmings. They strive to capture that perfect social media worthy family portrait for the cards they’ll send out.
Yet, they aren’t exactly going out of their way to “put a little love in your heart,” as the song goes.
They’ll be damned if someone else gets that parking spot they’ve been hovering near impatiently. They sigh loudly, roll their eyes, and make unnecessary comments when they have to wait in a line for five minutes. They set a horrid example for their children in their interactions with others.
Why does the day after Thanksgiving elicit such hostility and ridiculous behavior and continue on throughout the season when we should be the most compassionate and loving?
While I’m not one to push the “reason for the season” on anyone, there IS something to be said for those who look to the Bible and strive to bring joy, peace, and love to others as Jesus would have done.
For loss parents, our hearts are hardened for entirely different reasons. To the untrained eye, we may seem like Scrooges with our oh-so-serious faces and irritability with our own littles and spouses.
I was never Suzy Snowflake by any means, but I remember a time when I was much happier and the demands of the season felt far lighter. I didn’t have a perma-smile on my face while browsing through decorations like the woman I met this morning, but I relished in finding the perfect gifts. (I noticed as we left the store that she also had an adorable yellow Fiat with Rudolph accessories. Very festive and so fitting!)
Christmas is clearly a favorite holiday for her. And it was once one of my favorites too! However, now I just want to get through it and be done.
I feel awful thinking that and would certainly never let my child find out that Mommy is less than enthused to celebrate. In fact, I probably overcompensate in that department to create the illusion of the opposite vibe.
We do all sorts of crafting and baking. We go to tree lightings and other events. We build and decorate gingerbread houses. And she sees the presents piling up under the tree and gets more excited with each advent calendar chocolate she eats, as she knows the magical day is arriving.
But I know my kiddo is much more sensitive to my emotional state than others. Even at just five years of age, she can understand that Mommy may need to escape a crowded store or can burst into tears at any given moment.
I hate that she’s “used to” that, but it is our truth.
I think of those errands I run while she’s at school, though, and wonder if anyone senses that I have full body armor on from the moment I step out of my car until I’m safely buckled into my seat once again a little while later. For the loss mom, lowering that shield even just the slightest bit and relaxing can mean exposing herself to an immense amount of pain.
Our vulnerabilities are exposed. And it only takes one small thing to tear open our wounds once more.
Maybe it’s because I love craft stores and all of the creative juices that start flowing when I pass through the sliding glass doors and touch the metal handles of a basket, but I let my guard down almost every time in those stores. Such a dangerous thing to do, as I know it’s only a matter of time before a trigger finds its way to me.
Thanks to a chatty cashier, I suddenly realized the two women I’d seen a few times as I weaved through the aisles during my morning shopping today weren’t just friends who were having an exchange about yarn (one in English, the other in Spanish). They were bonded together by marriage and had purchased the yarn for a baby blanket to give as a co-grandparent gift to the expecting couple in anticipation of the baby’s arrival.
It’s a visceral reaction, really.
The intense urge to scream and/or run. The need to quickly look away. The tightening of the face (putting the mask back on). The gut wrenching pain. The stab to the heart. And, of course, the sting of fresh tears welling up rapidly. With no time to hide.
I find that, most people, do not know how to handle a person who is crying. I can sense the sideways glances and diverted eye contact. And I am extremely aware when they steer their families in another direction (either physically or by engaging in intense conversation). Never as subtle as they’d intended.
It’s human nature to be curious and want to know how to help someone. But the reality remains that no one will ask if you’re OK or offer help in some form ... especially if they learn WHY you’re bawling your eyes out and going through Kleenex like it’s your job. (Infant loss scares them. Hell, it happened to me and still scares me!)
I know things won’t always be like this. I’ll find joy in the holidays in dribs and drabs. It’s just hard to see through the haze of tears now — like staring at Christmas lights with those kaleidoscope-like paper glasses.
We soldier on like little nutcrackers because we must. Our lights just glow a bit dimmer than others. And that’s OK too.