There are no signs of a holiday season at my house. There are no decorations, no lights strung outside or in, no wreath, no tree, no music, no holiday parties and no Christmas spirit. I agree that I may fit the “bah-humbug” profile, except for one thing: I do remember my loved ones with gifts.
The joy of Christmas ended for me about five years ago on Christmas Day, as I anxiously awaited the arrival of my 3-year-old grandson to come and spend our first-ever Christmas Day together. I had invited my parents and siblings to share in the celebration of this very special holiday, where we would all be able to finally watch him open his gifts.
It always feels more like Christmas having a kid around. Our merriment soon turned to sorrow when my son walked through the door without little Alex. He had accepted the mom’s excuse that Alex had suddenly come down with the flu and chalked it up to yet another thwarted visit.
It was more than just one holiday and one day of disappointment. Things never got better. Alex never came back.
His dad’s frustration grew to the point that he simply gave up and stopped trying, eventually fading out of the picture entirely, but I kept fighting until I came across an unyielding judge who blocked my access as a result of a long and drawn-out court battle.
For me the traditions that go along with the Xmas holidays died that day. I have chosen to reinvent the holidays by eliminating traditions; I can only do what I am comfortable with, and one of those things is to make a charitable contribution to another child in my grandson’s name, and this is how I survive an otherwise stressful time.
– Grandma Scrooge
Susan: It takes a good deal of courage to stop worrying about what others think and break away from conforming expectations about the way things are supposed to be. There is no right or wrong way to honor holidays, just as there is no right or wrong coping strategy. We all cope differently, and whatever works for reducing stress is the best Rx.
I don’t think this grandmother is being a scrooge, but instead she is taking care of herself. She has painful feelings about holiday time because she associates it with all the unfulfilled expectations of spending at least part of the time with her grandchild. She doesn’t see the child during holidays or at all, nor is the child allowed to receive her gifts. She has changed her perceptions about how things are supposed to be and has adjusted her behavior to coincide.
By eliminating the frills, the decorating, the parties and switching the radio station away from Christmas music, she is protecting herself from sadness and anxiety that brings about stress. She has figured out that these are the stressors that can trigger an undesirable response: depression.
We have to do what is necessary to take care of ourselves especially during holiday time, even if it doesn’t fit society’s expectations.
Susan Hoffman is the author of Grand Wishes: Advocating to Preserve the Grandparent-Grandchild Bond and director of Advocates for Grandparent Grandchild Connection.