The lights are out, strung across many-a-garage, many-a-façade. The trees are nicely decorated and trimmed in living rooms. Cheerful holiday displays can be found in many neighbors’ yards. Colorful laser lights splash against the houses in an array of vibrant hues. For those of us of the Jewish persuasion, the menorahs may already be in the windows, maybe some blue and white lights in the front of the house, a couple blingy Happy Hanukkah signs are on the front or garage door. The Festivus Poles are up in the plain grandeur fashion, waiting for grievances to be addressed.
Regardless of what holiday you celebrate–be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, something I’ve left out, or even none of the above, the holiday season is a time for family gatherings–a time for being around those you love (even if they might drive you bonkers most of the year). But what happens when you’re missing loved ones? When the holiday season is a constant reminder of who is not at the dinner table–who does not have presents under the tree (or placed in some other location), awaiting the appropriate time for opening them.
For the past several years, my family has made a tradition of each of us lighting our own menorah each evening of Hanukkah. Every year, four menorahs would be lit as we sang the traditional prayers. This year, only three of us are going to be lighting candles. We will still have a fourth menorah lit, but almost in yahrzeit fashion–a menorah by which we remember the family member forever lost.
As I shopped for gifts this year, I kept thinking about how Micah would want this…or how Micah would love to have that…or how Micah…was no longer here. The sounds of the Pentatonix Christmas album would not emanate from his room (he loved that album–it did not matter to him, as a very vocal and proud Jew, that is was Christmas music — the music was more important than any religious message it might have contained). He would not be spending his Winter Break sitting in his favorite pajamas on the sofa in the loft/playroom area, talking to his friends and playing on his Xbox. As I sit in my office typing this blog, the silence coming from the play area is deafening.
Part of my apparently subconscious solution was to “adopt” a family friend that I have also connected with, and get a couple small gifts for her. Even that has not been without its challenges. I don’t want to go overboard pretending the friend is actually my son. Small tokens from a friend that cares about you are nice, but I think dropping an Xbox or an iPad on a friend you care about comes off as a little strange (and a little bit of a hit to the family budget). Even that apparently simple logic becomes more complicated by my desire to see those around me happy–and cost (sometimes) be damned.
I read somewhere about how you need to tread lightly at the holidays with those who have recently lost a loved one. I kind of scoffed at the time, thinking, “Who wouldn’t want to immerse themselves in happy holidays to help forget their sorrows?” But now I know–it’s so true. Right now, I have a hard time thinking about holiday parties. My normal “I’ll just do it all” energy is depleted, and not showing any immediate signs of recovery.
I so want to be happy for everyone celebrating the holidays with their families, but seeing that–right now anyhow–quickly becomes a painful reminder of the missing piece of my own. Still, that won’t stop me from trying to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays or whatever seems appropriate at that moment. I genuinely do want everyone else to be happy. Sometimes the pleasure I derive from seeing or making others happy is the biggest boost my mood can get…
So, Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Joyous Festivus! If you see me looking unhappy, distracted, less than festive, it’s okay to just give me a hug and say nothing. If that makes you uncomfortable, then say whatever will comfort you–at least if I see you happy, it might bring a brief smile to my face as well.