"Have a holly jolly Christmas." "Deck the halls with boughs of holly." "Have yourself a merry little Christmas."
The holidays are a happy time of year, right? They can be, but for many of us, they can also be bittersweet. A missed loved one can bring sadness to an otherwise joyous season.
Christmas was a big deal in the household of Dan and Carol Luczynski, my father-in-law and mother-in-law. My husband and I always had to split Christmas week between LA (my family) and Phoenix (his family), but we always made sure that our time in Phoenix included Christmas eve and Christmas day. I love the traditions we had of lighting the luminarias, sharing a meal together, piling into the van to see the neighborhood lights, opening the big pile of gifts under the tree on Christmas eve, and scratching our lottery tickets on Christmas day that were always in our stockings.
These traditions stopped over a decade ago when my mother-in-law and father-in-law died. Now we no longer make our way to Phoenix for the holidays. This past weekend I traveled to Phoenix with my husband to visit my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. These days I only get out every few years to visit. Perhaps it was the proximity to the holidays, but this visit made me nostalgic for the past.
My husband and I decided to go for a run while we were there and ran from his sister's house to his parents' old house. Just seeing that house where all of our family gatherings took place hit me at my core. I felt myself tearing up with the overwhelming feeling of loss—loss for the traditions and loss not to have Dan and Carol in our lives anymore. It's been over a decade, but in that moment, the sadness came on suddenly and caught me off-guard.
On our run, we decided to visit some old friends of my in-laws. We haven't seen them in years and keep in touch only through annual holiday cards, but I feel like they are one of the few remaining ties to Dan and Carol. They happened to be home and were (understandably) surprised by our visit. As I explained our impulse for the visit, I felt myself getting choked up and was hardly able to get the words out. It's amazing how the loss can feel so present and strong, even after so many years.
The holidays can be a difficult time for many people, whether the loss is recent or years prior. If you feel this way, be kind to yourself and acknowledge these feelings. Share your thoughts with others. Does it help to talk about your loved one and your fun holiday memories? Does it help to honor them by continuing some of the traditions? If you know someone who has recently lost a loved one, check in with them this holiday season and see how they are doing.
We often feel like we should be jolly and merry during this time of year, but it's okay if, mixed in with the merriment, there is some sadness. Just recognize it and honor it. And then try to be present (and feel the happiness) with the loved ones in your life who you are spending the holidays with.
I'd love to hear from you in the comments section below. Who are you missing this holiday time? What are your favorite holiday memories of or traditions with them?
I'm sending hugs to everyone who is feeling bittersweet this holiday season.
(above) 1999 Last Luczynski holiday together
(above right) 1991 Dan and Carol
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