“Workin’ hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin’ anything to roll the dice
Just one more time
Some will win
Some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on, and on, and on…”
Last Saturday, I was taking in what was left of the ‘holiday magic’ as I procrastinated to avoid the annual (daunting) task of “undecorating” it all.
King Cake for breakfast helped, but the Christmas stuff didn’t come down until a few days later.
I say “annual task,” but this was the first year in three that I have actually decorated for Christmas. That’s right, for one reason or another, I have opted out of putting up a Christmas tree altogether for the past THREE years. Why?? I just wasn’t feeling it. And I was tired of doing things for everyone else (Gasp, if you will…here’s me not caring! LOL).
To me, holiday decorating is a personal thing–something you create to make your space happy and festive. And well, for the previous three holiday seasons, it did not make me happy. It felt too temporary, and it took too much effort. And for Thomas, it at least gave him 500 less things to bring down and put back up for me, so it’s not like it completely ruined his holidays.
This past week was hard (as it is every year) hence the delay in my (heartfelt) post. But, by the grace of God and the help of some good people, we got through it. Yep, we came down from the holiday/birthday high, and made it through one of the four hardest days of each year; two of which occur in January. This past Monday, January 9th, marked the eleventh anniversary of Thomas’s dad’s death and the 27th marks what would have been his 61st birthday.
He is missed. Tremendously.
We all have these days. The dark dates that mark significant pain in our lives. We anticipate (dread) them, get through them, and then life goes on. It just does. Time passes, wounds heal or are assumed healed, and we move on.
For us, taking Christmas decorations down symbolizes more than just the end of holiday festivities. It is a reminder of what looms . . . those tough days that ironically coincide with the fresh start of a new year. It is a jarring dichotomy of emotion. We start each year celebrating and also mourning another year without a very significant part of our family — a man that was gone far too soon.
No more “Jingle Bell Rock” and no more glowing lights. Midnight struck on December 31st and, just like that, another year was behind us . A week (or two…or three) later, and we are left to take down all of that ‘joy’ and box it up for another ten months, just to do it all over again.
Not everyone feels as strongly about decorations, but we can all relate to (reluctantly) facing pain. My point today goes beyond this example to something more universal.
Relating to others’ pain . . . when you can’t relate at all.
Most of us have faced at least one extremely tough (life-changing) issue. Yet we love and connect with others daily that may have only known the more pleasant flip-side to our struggle.
Death vs. Life.
Infertility vs. Fertility.
Divorce vs. Marriage.
Success vs. Unemployment.
Obese vs. Ideal.
Sickness vs. Health.
As the list goes on, an old saying pops in my mind:
“YOU CAN’T REALLY UNDERSTAND ANOTHER PERSON’S EXPERIENCE UNTIL YOU’VE WALKED A MILE IN THEIR SHOES.”
…And if you walked a mile in mine, you would most likely end up barefoot in a wine bar. Ha!
All joking aside, everyone knows pain and that there are different levels and types. We can try to be empathetic and compassionate (some are better at it than others.) But unless you have gone through the same exact situation, you do not truly know someone else’s pain. You do not know what they are going through or how they are feeling.
You just don’t. And pretending to doesn’t help.
Rewind to my first few years of marriage. I may have mentioned it previously, but (like a lot of guys) my husband is not super emotional. Well, in an outward way at least. But just because someone may not express their feelings openly, it doesn’t mean they are okay. It took me a number of years to grasp that.
For those first few years, I thought it would be best to treat the anniversary of his dad’s death just like any other day, and the same for his birthday. Heck, to be brutally honest, I didn’t even remember the specific dates back then because Thomas never really said much about it. On Father’s Day each year we would go to dinner with my dad and celebrate his step-dad. We just went about things.
I’m not sure exactly when my ‘aha moment’ finally came, but I’m pretty certain it involved my super-strong husband breaking down. Crying. A sight of which I have only seen a handful of times in my life and let me just tell you, it is a sight that will rip your heart out and leave it sitting on the floor somewhere.
It is devastating. It is raw. It is painfully real.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I (personally) had never been through a traumatic situation before our infertility diagnosis. And even though I may not know his loss, as his wife, his pain is my pain.
Now, Father’s Day is that much more difficult. Not only was his dad taken away too soon, he now knows he can’t have his own children.
Mother’s Day is much the same. I smile through the events as we celebrate my (amazing) mom and my mother-in-law and our grandmothers. But I am dying a little inside. I am only partly there. I can’t wait to throw the covers over my head and move on to a new day; one that doesn’t spotlight that emptiness.
It’s painful. And it’s real.
I think the most profound thing anyone has said to me regarding our inability to have children was this: “I don’t know what you are going through, Claire, and to be quite honest I don’t want to know . . . because it is my worst nightmare.” My friend said this to me with tears streaming down her face when I told her we would never be able to have children of our own.
Her empathy was more than evident. And even though she didn’t know my pain, I finally felt understood on some level. For the first time, the indescribable depth of my pain was recognized.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in relationships is trying to relate a traumatic life event of our own to someone else’s pain. Although well-intended, this approach can feel patronizing and often makes us feel even more alone. Even if the situation is similar, everyone reacts and copes and grieves differently.
We have to look at the big picture. We have to put ourselves in that person’s shoes and not make it about us.
Let them hurt.
Recognize the depth of their pain, and be there to help pick up the pieces whenever/wherever they fall.
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching
In the night
Livin’ just to find emotion
Hidin’ somewhere in the night”
Today we celebrate the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
A man who knew pain . . .
A man who had a dream . . .
A man who believed.
Someone who told us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
Be someone’s light.
So here we are. The Christmas decorations are officially packed up and put away. I feel like I blinked and we are halfway through January.
Where does the time go?
Next, we (South Mississippians) move on to Mardi Gras and prepare to let the good times roll, right?
Well (I believe that) somewhere above, my father-in-law is jamming out to Journey in an 18-wheeler in the sky . . .
Looking down with a smile as he strums his air guitar at the red light singing:
“Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to that feelin’
Streetlight people. “
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