Looking at ourselves and the world through the lens of the 21st century.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Four Christmases

Hey this is Amber Garvin with my first official blog post and I’m here to talk about grief during the holidays. The subject is hard for me because I don’t have a family in a traditional sense anymore. Both of my parents have recently passed away, and I am newly divorced. So, in a sense,

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” – Vicki Harrison.

The holidays are coming, and it is not my favorite time of the year. In the past, I looked forward to November and December. Not just because I am a teacher and I get some much-needed time off work but also because I got to spend time with my family. I come from a very traditional family. On Thanksgiving, we had turkey and dressing at my Maw Maw’s house sitting around my great grandmother’s table eating family style. My family always had at least four kinds of pie on Thanksgiving as well. After dinner, we would play board games with football playing in the background. My mom, cousin, and I also have November birthdays, so we usually celebrated our birthdays on Thanksgiving as well.

Christmas was a big deal in my family also. Every year, we picked out a real Christmas tree from the local tree farm and we decorated it together as a family. I’m an only child so it was just my mom, dad, and me. Every year my mom and I also made Christmas cookies and candy together to wrap and deliver to extended family and friends. Christmas was my mom’s absolute favorite time of the year, and she went out of her way to make it special for everyone throughout the years. Her favorite thing to do (and she did this well into my adult life) was play the role of Santa for my dad, Maw Maw, and me. In the early hours of Christmas morning, she would fill the family stockings with various knickknacks and would place bigger presents under the Christmas tree. I remember the Christmas after I became a teacher, “Santa” surprised me with office supplies for my classroom. Around noon on Christmas Day, my whole family would gather at my Maw Maw’s house, and we would have a family gift exchange. These gifts were usually handmade, or food related of some kind. Food gifts were also a huge tradition in my family. Every year, my mom was always the one to pass out the gifts as well. The holidays were special.

My dad died in 2017 and in 2018 my mom died just a little over a year later. The Christmas after my mom died, I obsessively tried to fill her shoes as “Santa.” I went over the top with gifts and baking. In my grief, I tried to make it seem like there weren’t two giant holes in the holiday. In the year after my mom’s death, my ex-husband and I fell out with the rest of my family due to grief and differences of opinion. In 2019, I had decided to forgo the holidays and my then-husband, and I took my Maw Maw to a casual diner for a Christmas lunch. We didn’t exchange presents at all that year.

The last picture taken with both of my parents: Christmas of 2016

In 2020, amid the pandemic, I had a lot of time for clarity and self-reflection. I was finally able to deal with my grief over the loss of my parents. My ex-husband and I had also separated right before the holidays as well. 2020, was looking to be another year of holiday avoidance. At the same time, I didn’t want to avoid them. I was ready to take my grief head on and channel it into something more positive. The holidays are overwhelming as it is but adding grief to the mix can make them unbearable for most. In November of 2020, I began to make amends and my extended family was happy to welcome me back into the fold. Once I became open to trying new things, I realized that I wasn’t as alone as I thought.So, in 2020, I started new traditions with four Christmases. 

The key to coping with grief is to not completely abandon your old traditions. Last year, I decided to mix old traditions with new traditions to see where I would end up. The week before Christmas, I made around 200 Christmas cookies to wrap for family and friends, then on Christmas Eve, I began a three-day long trek across Texas to get my holiday groove back. 

I started in Carrollton with my Modern Musings family. Cindy and Christen have been inviting me to their family Christmas for years but this year I completely immersed myself into their traditions of gingerbread house building (my first one ever), Christmas caroling, and Christmas Eve pajamas. It was like we had been having Christmas together for years and I was grateful for the love that my Modern Musings family has shown me. Next, I went to my hometown of Vernon and spent Christmas morning with my childhood friend Stacy and her family. For dinner, I went to my cousin Stephanie’s house. I had not seen her and her family much after my mom’s death. Some of my extended family I was seeing for the first time in two years, but it was like I had never broken tradition. My family welcomed me back with open arms and open hearts. We had dinner, played board games, and exchanged food gifts. My cousin Steven even showed the family his new hobby of axe throwing, which may just become a new family get together tradition. Finally, I was invited to my extended cousin Lavonna’s house the day after Christmas for a family get-together that I have never attended. 

I went through many stages of grief in the years after my parents died and my marriage fell apart. For a long time, I was scared of new traditions and opted to avoid the holidays altogether. I realized that aside from hurting myself in avoiding the holidays, I was also hurting the extended family and friends that wanted to see me and experience their traditions with me. My takeaway is that it’s okay to start new traditions after tragedy. It’s okay to keep old traditions. It’s okay to combine traditions to whatever works for you. For the longest time I avoided the people that loved me because I was grieving, and I was being unfair to myself. I’m not sure what I will do this year for the holidays, but I take comfort in the fact that so many people have been there for me in the past year, and it makes me feel less alone and more hopeful for the future.

The holidays are hard when you’ve lost loved ones, but you are not alone. What are your favorite holiday traditions? Have you experienced the same things that I have? I want to know. Comment below or e-mail me at info@modernmusings.net.

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