Ginny Kochis shares wisdom born of experience about making the most of a holiday season that seems anything but festive.
My father died at four in the morning on the 23rd of December, 2005.
The next evening, my sister, mother, and I sobbed through Christmas Eve Mass.
Our world -- and the season with it -- had imploded. The secular world carried on with its bells, balls, and jingles and we were left to cope.
And then the next year came. And we put on our Very Brave Faces. We moved like automatons through most of the standard holiday season: wound up and set in a motion on a magnetic, mirrored glass pond.
It wasn’t just that we had lost my father, though his death cast quite the shadow over our gatherings that first year. It was also the reality that life had changed and, therefore, our expectations with it.
Our holiday season would be different.
That’s not something most people want to hear.
Change is part of life, but during the holidays? It’s especially trying. Whether you’ve lost a loved one, experienced unusual or extenuating circumstances, or suffered some sort of technical or financial difficulty, proceeding with holiday celebrations in a manner contrary to how you’ve always done them can throw you for a proverbial loop.
It’s tempting to lose yourself in the morass of emotions, to slump through the holiday season without warm feelings of any sort. But not only it is possible to find joy in the after, it’s also immensely preferable.
Here’s how to make the most of your holiday season even if everything’s different this year.
Focus on the now
Every holiday season brings with it a bit of nostalgia, that sense of fond longing for people and events of your past. But this time around, what you’re feeling is more akin to grieving. You’re going to have to do without someone or something important to you, and the idea of moving through coming weeks with any sort of joyful spirit feels like a punch to the gut.
The truth is, grief is hard, and the journey is different for everyone. You can mitigate the sting, though, by focusing on the good things happening right in front of you. Praise God for the graces at your doorstep and keep those gifts in your heart.
Remember some changes are temporary
In many cases, the change you’re facing won’t crop up every year. It may be that this holiday season won’t bring a visit from parents, grandparents, cousins, or extended family, but chances are, you’ll gather again the following year.
Rest in God’s constancy
Even if it feels like the sky is orange and everything you once knew has been turned on its head, remember that God is there. Your world may have changed - and drastically - but God’s presence hasn’t:
“Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” (MT 28:20)
Go ahead and be vulnerable
It’s okay to not be okay. While it may be true that others rely you on to be strong and confident, there’s nothing wrong with needing to be carried. Sharing your fears, your sadness, your own difficulties coping isn’t just acceptable, it’s good for you, your husband, and your kids.
Cherish what is possible
You’ve probably heard the saying about the baby and the bathwater, but if you haven’t, don’t toss the former with the latter on a whim. Just because some aspects of this season have changed (perhaps drastically) doesn’t mean you must let go of all of it. In fact, keeping as many of your traditions as intact as possible will be soothing for everyone involved.
There isn’t a season that goes by where I don’t miss my daddy, where I don’t find myself wishing he were here. But over the ensuing years with all their changes, all their joys, all their opportunities for grit and grace and flexibility, the Lord has shown His abiding constancy.
He’s in every change, every shift, every moment of instability.
Let your heart learn to cherish what is.