Many Layers


No, not ten-layer dip or trifle dessert. Many layers of many holidays.

For some of us, this year is very different than the past. Maybe it’s a death in the family, and the absence of this person has created a completely changed family dynamic. Perhaps we are still hip-deep in grief and aren’t even aware of what time of year it is. For some of us, maybe there is a health scare, recovery from COVID, or another serious illness. But, on the other hand, lucky families have a new baby, kitten, or puppy to celebrate. Perhaps it’s not even what’s happening now… but what has happened in years gone by. That’s part of my story.

December 2015

My mother was living happily at Herrick House in Beverly, thanks to Manchester’s very own Jane Metrano, a lifelong friend and amazing advocate and comforter to my entire family for generations. Early in the month, my daughters and I converted Mom’s modest apartment into a holiday wonderland. All was well until it wasn’t. One very bad fall led to many days at Mass General Hospital and then a transfer to Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers.

Mom was the “Christmas Queen.”

I pride myself on having shopping and decorating done very early so that I can absorb all that the season has to offer. Mom always shopped, wrapped, and decorated well before 12/1…and in grand style. We spent that holiday season at Kaplan, as many of you may have as well.  She lived until December 27. We “had” Christmas at her bedside that year.  Her last.  My last with her. Life-changing for me. Forever.

So, that is one of my layers.  You have your own.  For those who have this sticky layer, we might not be aware of conjuring up these memories, hurts, and traumas.  They just arrive all on their horrid own.  The trigger may be seasonal music, the smell of pine, decorations on houses, or even seeing the proverbial Christmas tree on top of a car heading to its new home.

We may not even connect the dots sometimes.  We felt fine driving home from work, all was well, and then we heard THAT SONG on the radio.  Whatever pulls us into the swampy past is most often unplanned.  It comes upon us without warning and can feel like getting hit by a snowplow.

One of your layers may not be a loss. It might be the complexity of relationships.

Is someone coming for the Holidays who has been estranged from the family?  Has there been a breakdown of communication, and are there hard feelings?  Is there a long-standing feud? Is there a new/recent event that has caused a rift?  Is there a substance issue or mental health issue that is disruptive and painful to be around?

The notion of the Walton’s Christmas was so appealing.

They had their “made for TV conflicts and problems.”  Not so for most of us. It’s the time of year we would long to have harmony and resolve our issues within a 60-minute time frame, with a nice break in the action scheduled on the quarter-hour.  The phrase “not a snowball’s chance” comes to mind.

We want to be happy.  We want to capture as much joy as we are capable of during this time of year.  We want to set a good example for our children of how we handle family discord and conflict.  So many layers…some stuck with super glue.

I can only share how it works for me. I allow myself to feel the mixture of emotions.  I acknowledge them, try to validate them for myself, and then work very hard to stay in the now. Mindfulness for the Holidays.  That either is or should be a PBS special. Maybe that’s my next chapter…

If your closet door is nailed shut with painful stuff inside, I’m not suggesting you open it wide up here in December. Instead, maybe this year, you start with putting a wreath on that very tightly closed door.  Next year the wreath could get lights.  As with most things, here we have that imperfectly perfect truth of Both And. 

It is painful. It is longing for what we no longer have, readjusting to the now, and finding the beauty and the joy through our tears.  They are both there for us. Rather than black or white, yes or no, all or nothing, maybe it’s both…and.

If I find “buy one/get one” wreaths on sale, I’ll pick up one for you, and I’ll even throw in a hook for that closet door.