This is it! Today is the day! There are no more sleeps left till Santa comes. It is here! This is the day the world counts down for. If you are in Australia, it is the one day of the year where all the shops are closed, and the streets are quiet. Families and loved ones join together to celebrate life and love. Even if you weren’t brought up in church, Christmas is still a sacred day many of us set aside to splash love around with the people we care most about.
For most of us, Christmas is something to look forward to, but there are some of us today that have been dreading this day since the day that our entire life was turned upside-down. I have heard many people say just how bad 2016 was, and how tough it’s been for them to get through. I have had my own years just like that. I know what it’s like to face Christmas after my world changed completely. To be able to muster up any kind of celebratory feeling after the crisis has hit like a tidal wave is a feat that hardly seems worth the effort at all. There have been three Christmases I have faced that were certainly the toughest ones of all, but they each taught me a profound lesson that I have carried into every Christmas since.
Cash Is Not Wealth
My first tough Christmas was the Christmas after we had come to the very brink of bankruptcy. We had rolled one business over into another and then a third, but the ebb and flow of our start-up cashflow simply couldn’t keep up with the invoices that followed us each step of the way. Those who knew, our accountant and closest friends, thought we were completely mad at the time. We had been advised to call it quits and face the brutal reality that our businesses hadn’t worked. We were told that there was no way out, no other option. But we persisted. We didn’t want the embarrassment of the label, or the shame of leaving our creditors high and dry, or the opportunities of the future to close if we shut up shop. So we kept going. Even though we finally managed to pay all of the debt back over a decade later, we made it. But on that first Christmas, we felt the pinch like a green ant bite. It stung hard. Our Christmas tree hosted a few odd gifts, and the dining table was laid out with some special treats. But more than anything else, this day slapped us hard in the face with the fact that we simply couldn’t afford our usual fanfare. It was a shameful, empty feeling that threatened to swallow our joy and our pride.
But that Christmas taught me to be grateful. We still had our kids and our health and modest celebrations that highlighted just how truly blessed we were, every single day of our life. If you have your back against the financial wall this Christmas, look around. There is so much more in your life than the emptiness of your bank balance. The best things in life really are free.
Silence Is Golden
I celebrated my second tough Christmas for the most part in silence, because it was the year after I lost my voice. This had been another gruelling year, but the challenges this time had bowled me over psychologically. Initial anger and resentment towards the voice strain injury quickly developed into depression and then further into an anxiety sickness called an adjustment disorder. The isolation of the silence, combined with the darkness of the depression, and the panic of the anxiety disorder to create a highly stressful, teary Christmas. It would be another year before I saw my way clear of this awful sickness, so on this Christmas I was up to my neck in mental illness.
But that Christmas taught me to be hopeful. I had started jogging by this time and had cut my drinking back enormously. I wanted the day to be spectacular. The laughter of my children, the delight of them opening their gifts, the indulgence of the food, and the love of my husband filtered through the cloudy state I was in, and I saw glistening sparkles of hope that shone through in flashing moments of beauty. If you are depressed today, have hope. Time passes and things change. It won’t be like this forever.
True Love Lasts Forever
My last horrible Christmas was the one after losing my husband Alec. My usual excitement and child-like anticipation of Christmas was replaced that year with dread. I didn’t want to face the void that had been left in place of Alec, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle any more overwhelming feelings of grief. The emotion I was most imprisoned by though, was guilt. Even on the days I was able to muster up a smile or momentary happiness, this positivity was quickly swallowed up in self-loathing disbelief that I could ever let Alec go.
On that Christmas morning my 19yr old Zac sat beside 17yr old Isabelle in stoney silence. None of us knew how to be or what to say. Yes, there were gifts to open, and breakfast traditions that should have seen us through, but all of it felt wrong. It would never be the same again. Even though we had made it to the lounge room and tried to take up our usual positions, we had hit a road block. Alec had always played the Santa role, distributing gifts and making lame Dad jokes that inspired smiling groans every time. We had no Santa now, and we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We just cried.
Eventually I asked Zac if he wanted to hand out the gifts. He reluctantly took up the offer, allowing us all to take our first steps towards redefining what Christmas is to us now, in this new normal. On that Christmas, we blindly pushed through to work out the new pathways through this day. That Christmas two years ago taught me new meanings of love. We all loved each other through the loss, and loved our way towards blending old traditions with new. If this Christmas is the first Christmas you have to face without your loved one, please know that you will make it through with the power of the love in your heart. The sadness and devastation of the loss are markers of the deepest love you have ever known. Although that grief feels insurmountable, there is beauty in it, because it is a flag that waves a signal of that love. To feel this pain of loss is to know that you have loved in purity. This love itself is a stunning wonder. Take the depth of the loss and use it as a reminder of the capacity you have for love. And share this love around with your people. This love is the very meaning of Christmas.
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