Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Season, Estrangements, and Unconventional Christmases

I was moved by Rick's post on the JJL blog the other day about his unconventional holiday plans. I wrote a comment after the post that I want to expand here.

It's about what we call "the season".

We never have conventional Christmases. For the last ten, my husband has been mourning the loss of his children via estrangement after a difficult divorce. Each Christmas is a painful reminder of what he has lost. He makes calls and waits for them to be returned, which they rarely are. He knows they will never visit nor will they welcome his visits any more than his calls. He is accepting that he will probably never know his grandchildren. Since LoveHubbie's father died a few years ago, his extended family has also drawn apart. His stepmother is still grieving, mourning her husband, forgotten by the rest of his family. We call her and cry and miss Dad. His brothers may or may not talk but they are no longer close. For LoveHubbie, Christmas is all about family and about how he doesn't have it anymore.

I have not always enjoyed the holiday myself as my mother attempted suicide on Christmas Eve and then died ten days later; this was a capstone to many dreaded Christmases before that. As an adult, I’ve never been successful working myself up to be consistently enthusiastic about all of the festivity although I do make efforts occasionally.

For example. When LoveHubbie lived with his children, no one ever gave him presents, as his wife encouraged gift giving solely between herself and the children. LoveHubbie too would give to them, but no one would give dad gifts. This was their tradition. So for one of our first Christmases together, I gave LoveHubbie 100 gifts. Most were very small, and collected for several months beforehand and each wrapped individually. It took the whole day just to open them. I wanted him to know that he was loved and to make up for all of those years that everyone decided not to bother. My efforts grew less enthusiastic and eventually have extinguished over the past several years, deflated by LoveHubbie's despair and inability to enjoy good things at this time of year as well as the loss of my Dad (my father-in-law).

I have found a peace about the season, though, because I have been given a precious gift. I know how weird this is may sound, but the one thing that gives me warm feelings is that I am estranged by choice from my own biological family of origin. I was the "black sheep" of the family for years, and each and every year I celebrate inside that there are no more arguments, no more recovering from cruel remarks, no more dreading hearing the phone ring. I am safe from what they offer me. I wish my family love, blessing, and the togetherness that they share. I harbor no ill will for any of them; I wish myself only continued absence from their group. I do love them, very much, but from a distance, the only way I can survive. Every year at this time I marvel that another year has gone by and I haven't heard from them. Marvel in a good way, that after years of not respecting me in any shape, manner, or form, they have indeed respected this fervent and expressed wish of mine and left me out. Holiday gifts come in unusual packages sometimes.

This year LoveHubbie and I are having our first hopefully-romantic getaway in our married life at Christmas in Leavenworth, WA, a town that has recreated itself to be reminiscent of Germany. My husband and I fell in love years ago at Christmas time on our way to Germany, back when we’d first met each other so we both have high hopes for this. However, I’m moderating my expectations by hoping that it is at least easier than Christmases past with my husband. I will be satisfied with whatever this quiet adventure holds, open for magic, but glad to be alive and to have each other whatever happens.

For some people, Christmas is a time that highlights the absence of family, the losses of the years (because most of us started out with family of some sort), and the general sense of not fitting in with the pacing of the culture, especially if we don’t share religious beliefs either. If we don’t bake, or shop, or decorate, or rush—and don’t want to—it can be a time of alienation and of feeling alone. I wish for everyone--especially those of us who are different--especially us--an astonishing holiday season filled with joy and peace in finding a way to celebrate being alive, to celebrate being loved by God/Universe, and to celebrate being cherished by so many others, even if it's not by those who are blood-related to us. As my friend Chani says, to create new rituals. Rituals that connect us to Spirit and to each other.

As for me, I am grateful for all of you, my extended blog family whom I cherish, and who make happyluau a lovely warm blog home for me. This season, I celebrate each and every one of you. Know that you have made a huge difference in my life. You cannot know how blessed I have been to have you as my cyber family.

To some of you who have close families, a virtual family may seem pitiful or a false family or a poor substitute for the real thing. As LoveHubbie sometimes says, "For God's sake, Olivia, you've never even met them, they aren't even REAL!"

Let me tell you---as I tell him---it is life---you are life---life---for many of us, for me. It allows us to have a taste of what it feels like to be loved, to be known, to be listened to. It allows us to experience a corner of life's experiences we'd never otherwise get. I would be out in the cold, this I know. I would not be happy. I would not believe in myself. I would not be writing a book. I might not even be alive, for all I know.

So thank you, those of you I know who come and comment repeatedly and encourage me. Thank you to those of you who stop by now and again. Those of you who never comment. Those who found me in a search for something and came back. Those of you who became offline friends. You are all a part of my world, of my journey, a part of what enables me to live the best life possible, even to believe that I am loved by a benevolent Universe. There is nothing more real than that.


thailandchani said...

*Love the pictures*! (I especially like the one with the straw fan behind you.)

It's always made more sense to build our own meaningful rituals instead of blindly following cultural customs. There is so much baggage attached to Christmas in its traditional practice. It's really hard for *most* people.

I like to retreat during that time.


Anonymous said...

We are so real!
This is a beautiful post and I'm SO glad you put in the photos. You look like a movie star in the one Chani likes. I think that inventing your own rituals is a wonderful idea. I love watching people rush around and get all stressed, knowing that once upon a time, I was one of those crazy people rushing around. Now I smile at them and wonder how many more years it will take before the majority joins me (and you) in returning to a simpler holiday season, or none at all.
Also, I wish to say that I am really sorry that LoveHubbie has been estranged from his children and grandchildren. That must be very hard.

patti said...

Yes I am real, real, real! And you are real to me too O! One day, we bloggers will all converge on one spot on the globe, stand in a circle and hold hands - We do this now, virtually, each time we gather on another's blog to leave our comment. We support each other and keep an eye on each other. We care.

Your pics are so beautiful Olivia -I love the shape of your face and your smile, you haven't changed a bit!

Yes, new rituals - make this holiday season about something that is meaningful just to you and Lovehubbie. Let go of the sadness.


kate i said...

For me, Christmas is highly overated with expectations so unrealistically high that it's almost impossible for it not to be dissapointing in some way. I've come to terms with it but it's not a holiday that I have great anticipation for. I much prefer to celebrate the solstice - the return of light - which has great meaning for me regarding hope and love and spirit.

Yes, we're onlne friends Olivia, but we've also have the great pleasure of meeting (although briefly) so you're very, very real to me and I appreciate and enjoy our connections. Enjoy your holiday with LoveHubbie - Christmassy or not!

Kate said...

Hi Olivia,

You are more real to me than some friends I see everyday. LoveHubbie really can't understand that because he hasn't had the experience. I love those pictures of you. Loved hearing your story too, I do seem to hear a little more each year. This romantic getaway sounds great to me. I slowly change my traditions year after year. This year my ornaments and decorations are looking more earth centered like birds and a pine cone and nut garland on my tree and white lights which are more natural looking to me. These images are already pagan as it is and I feel like I am honoring my celtic ancestors this way. I don't put up a creche anymore either. I stopped taking treats to neighbors years ago and I am happier with less stress. I am doing less of what society says you do and more that brings me joy. I think we have to search for our own joy during the holidays. I wish you much joy this year.


Rick Hamrick said...

Okay, okay, okay...I am actually a 'bot based in some undergrad's computer at Stanford.

You, though, my dear friend, are as real as can be, and I'm grateful to have the chance to know you!

groovysabrina said...

I wish you much joy this year, too, Olivia! I hope you both love your getaway and that you are able to do something similar to bring you joy more often.

Thanks for posting such cool photos! I also love the second-to-last one. Such a sweet smile.

Christmas in my tiny family is very simple: just me, my mom and dad and a nice meal at home. No decorating, no fuss. :)

Kim Mailhot said...

What gives the the most hope is that so many of us are finally awakening to the fact that there are so many different and better ways to BE, beautiful Olivia, just as you have. BEing true to our hearts and souls, to our need to give and receive love in whatever ways it comes and goes, and to just appreciating and celebrating each "good" moment of this precious life. Now that is a celebration of life, in any season !
Much love to you and Love Hubbie as you share these moments together.

Kim Mailhot said...

Oh and I loved seeing those sweet pictures of you ! Your heart and smile are so shiny !

Sylvain said...

I'm not real either. I'm a hologram. :-)
I'm sorry to hear about LH's family situation. That must be very hard the whole year round, and especially on special "family type" holidays.
I truly appreciate this post. It's very hard to separate from the season, particularly if it's something you used to enjoy. I used to love Christmas. But therein lays the problem. Used to. And "Used to" comes complete with a huge pile of expectations, and those are the source of much stress and disappointment. Families change, loved ones become estranged or are taken from us, and we are left with a memory of what it's supposed to be like. Quite simply a source of sadness, disappointment or even anger.
Not for me, not this year. I refuse. It's not that I am not doing Christmas. I will just accept whatever form it takes without a single once of expectation. Except maybe one. I can't shake the craving for eggnog.

CrystalChick said...

This is one of those posts that I really love. The pictures, your honesty. So many times something you say touches me. It's not that we have similar lives or anything but just some of it resonates in different ways. My parents are gone... Dad 10 years, Mom 14. But I miss them soooo much and especially because my husbands parents (well, the adoptive ones) are very distant. They only live 15minutes away and rarely do they call. We had a situation with them in the past year that has made getting together even more difficult. My hubby has tried to be a good son despite the differences and drama but still they don't make much attempt at helping the things along. They even have great grandchildren that live very nearby and the newest one, only 2 months old, they've only seen once and do not even call or ask about. And don't even get me started on hub's brother!
The holidays for us, are more about our immediate family... our children, and my daughter's family....than anything religious. And we try to spend some time with friends, who are extensions of our family (in person and online!)
I have to admit to still being a little too involved with the commercial part of the holidays but I try to shop early because we do have fairly long list of gifts we like to give. But as long as I try to enjoy that process of it and not let it become stressful I suppose it's okay to be a bit generous in that way.

I know you and LoveHubbie will enjoy your time away at the German town. Many good wishes being sent your way for a wonderful new year full of everything that makes you feel happiness and love.

Joanna said...

Yes, we are most definitely real.

I don't know where I'd be without online friendships either.

Your post made me feel sad about what people go your comment on JJL did... but also glad and happy that the human spirit continues to shine, will always shine, as it does in you x

Carmen said...

your pictures of child faces and smiles gave me a great feeling you know, like lots of happiness, how about that? thank YOU
you are loved, uh uh uh!!!!