Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: Full Circle by stargardener

photo by stargardener

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

Life is a full circle, widening until it joins the circle motions of the infinite. ~Anaïs Nin

There is a full circle of {living} when it comes to my holiday memories. I don’t do bright and shiny; but dark and twisty is not my holiday style either. The invitation to share my thoughts about the flip side of “Christmas cheer” felt simple — doable … the words were there — until they weren’t. It prompted a discussion with each of my three children about the Christmases we have shared … the Christmases we spent apart as a family. As adults, each familiar with the way holidays affect me; the duty and work of Christmas-Past.

They know October cues a stirring of the ghosts of Christmas-Past, clanking tortuous truths, whispering painful reminders but also carrying clusters of hope wrapped in strands of tiny twinkle lights. I have befriended these ghosts; each one standing guard in the full circle of coming home to myself for the holidays. The journey I started as a child and continued to walk through during my 20’s, when I was unmarried and before I became an "instant" mom. During that time I celebrated Christmas the way my parents did. 
The circle continued to round the first Christmas I was married, with children. I was intentional about traditions and family time for my children. Soon celebrations evolved in a way I believed best for my children. My eldest two children had lost their birth mother to cancer; I wanted to protect their sense of belonging and place in their extended family. I wanted Christmas to “look the same” and include all the traditions they knew. It was exhausting and I often wondered if the extra effort was meaningful and affirming … or merely acts of denial that life is a series of difficult realities.

Love was not always enough to wrap the shards of suffering in; it was not enough padding to prevent the pain of grief and rejection. Just as making fireplace ash footprints was not enough evidence that Christmas could be magical and defy the details of {living}. As my children moved into adulthood and the details of {living} hit with increased intensity, traditions and rituals of celebration felt agonizing, hypocritical … impossible. It was a tedious reality of moving through the range of emotions — the numb, debilitating silence, the fiery, self-destructive rage — and the suffering caused by unrealistic expectations {of myself and others}.

Enduring the work of traditions that no longer held meaning for me, straining to clothe myself — to decorate — with “holiday trimmings” as I stood behind a cutout of a smiling me, and ignoring the desperate need for conversations — or at the very least, closure. To mourn what had no future, and perhaps never had a chance of life — to find the exit door or reach an informal agreement to end the charade and go our separate ways. To find the courage to admit my limits, and to execute the petitions of my soul, even if I had to do so alone ... even if it meant I couldn’t protect my children from additional loss.

The wound is the place where the Light enters you. -Rumi

The limits of cancer and multiple sclerosis, being bedfast with grief and physical pain — these physical and emotional realities amplified by promises made and promptly ignored without explanation or apology — were the ironic beginning of new traditions. Ground was tilled and seeds sown the day an artist date with snowy country roads was interrupted; when my vision blurred, half my body went limp, and the words my mind spoke couldn’t make their way to vocalization. Outwardly silent, motionless and hooked up to monitors in a hospital emergency room, I was inwardly declaring my independence and busily boxing up shattered hopes and dreams. 

The mini-stroke served as both a finish line and a start line; the conclusion of awaiting change, the beginning of {living} change. I continued to blurt my way through "The Holidays" for most of the next three years; but suddenly I knew there was Grace to embrace exoneration — granted by time and my own resignations. A release of what was once meaningful and life-giving — honoring its value and importance — but choosing to walk away.

I knew I had turned my back once and for all on Christmas-Past — yet I remained entangled with its facts, wrapped with angst and resentments. A threadbare mourning cloth, clutched tightly around my shoulders to stave off the piercing cold of the past and it tangled tales. But I began deleting the mental audio files of my vents, my cutting remarks about historical re-writes and the commercialization of what was once sacred; the lack of meaning, community service and heart-felt giving.

During those years that followed, I began to discover solace in the shadows. I celebrated the protective and soothing darkness of winter days. Rays of afternoon sunlight became an altar of peace; flickering candle flames, reminders of Spirit and the healing closure of the incineration of what once was. Icy cold winds stroking my garden chimes became hymns and carols; the wind itself a reminder of change and cycles and circles of currents.

And yet the raw truth of my full circle from brokenness to celebration — the words describing the reasons for my emotional disconnect with a holiday celebrating salvation and the miracles of Love — remains intertwined with the stories of others. Thus, writing each syllable felt like betrayal or at the very least an act of dishonoring the overlapping chapters in which my children and I share scenes and details.

Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending. -George Eliot

The process of collecting words for this post has been a lifeline for me. My three children were "home" (their childhood home) for Christmas for the first time in ten years. It was such a gift of joy to sit with all three of my children on Christmas morning ... to watch the glee of all three of my grandchildren opening presents in the same living room their parents did as children. It was merry … and bright. Even without a Christmas tree and twinkle lights, or Christmas music or Santa’s ash footprints.

This post has been spliced and edited to the point of its rewriting. As I discussed this with my daughter yesterday, she suggested I simply begin with a new document. She reminded me I knew what I wanted to say as well as how I wanted to convey its meaning. My Christmas litany for acceptance has been an intention of holding {pause} when the ghosts of Christmas-Past glide through my dailies. My week has been revealing and raw, but also tender and healing as my adult children and I shared heart-to-heart conversations. Each of us navigating our own memories and intentions for this season of Advent; each of us honoring one another’s truth and ties that gently bind us and keep us close.

I don’t do bright and shiny; but dark and twisty served me well. My holiday style continues to include various unconventional decorations. And when holiday days get slammed with realities and distraction, when MS roars so loud I can hardly think … I will not surrender or deny how I feel {sad/angry about unmet expectations, hope deferred} and I will not "put on a happy face" ... I will gently apply the salve of this Christmas on the wound that pulses and oozes during November and December.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ~Matthew 5:4

I love how Teresa says that she doesn't "do bright and shiny," but is best served in the "dark and twisty."  What about you?  What best serves you for your holiday style . . . or your whole life?

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Teresa Robinson aka stargardener believes in the empowerment of allowing our {living} to become art. That each day is a canvas awaiting the collage elements we decide have meaning — splashed with the authentic paint of our mind, will and emotions. Her canvases include elements from: Secret Rebel Club, The Art Journaler and Right Brain Planner … and she would be thrilled to know more about your story, Braveheart!


  1. Oh Teresa, this took my heart on an up, down, and up journey. I love that you don't "put on a happy face," but accept right where you are come Oct-Dec. You are such an inspiration for me in both my motherhood & artistic/spiritual lives. Love, from the deepest part of my soul, to you this coming new year <3

    1. Our kinship is a treasure for me, Julie. ~thank you kindly <3

  2. Wow thank you! Your nov-dec sounds so familiar. I've carried the guilt of not being a fan of the bright and shiny... Often being referred to as the grinch...It's for a mixture of reasons - some of which I'm still trying to understand myself. Thank you for your courage in sharing this in a world that loves bright and shiny. ❤️ You have an amazing way with your kids.

    1. Much love to you, my friend ... the understanding comes as we share space in our {familiar} and honor the time needed for the process as we abide together. <3

  3. "I will gently apply the salve of this Christmas on the wound that pulses and oozes." This, I believe, is the key to everything. I'm making it my business to sit in whatever space I'm in and simply accept what is. Thank you, Teresa, for your deep wisdom. You've earned your stripes in the trenches. I salute you, comrade.


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King