The onslaught of the holiday season is officially here. Everywhere I turn there will be reminders of what I no longer have. Emotions during the holidays are all over the place. I LOVE being able to celebrate with my mom and my son. I LOVE making new memories and establishing new traditions. But years ago things were different.
A few days ago I was lazily flipping through the latest issue of Real Simple. Then I stopped, read, and cried. It’s been over six years, so you would think I would be over it by now, but reading about family estrangement, and how common it is completely got to me.
Being estranged from friends or family is a horrible feeling that lingers. Sometimes the estrangement was for the best and, rationally, you know you are healthier, stronger, and better. But that doesn’t make the bad feelings go away.
When I look back on my childhood I am flooded with so many wonderful and fun memories. My family was very close and loyal to one another. Then things changed. I could probably draw a diagram illustrating how some of the ties began to fracture, but they wouldn’t show anything unusual. Divorces, addictions, aggressions, geography – it’s the stuff we all see played out within family dramas on the television. However, real life is much more complicated.
The final break in our family happened at my grandmother’s funeral. It was horrible, awful, terrible, and I am still shocked over things that were said. I remember holding a 6 month old W to my chest and being told by someone I was related to what a horrible person I was. This same person didn’t even “believe” my grandmother had Alzheimer’s.
Before the funeral I had an extended family. Afterwards it became clear that my only family was my mother and my son.
And yet, there are decades of memories and moments where things were wonderful. Family trips, holiday dinners, fun traditions. All of those memories got packed away and put on a shelf.
During the holiday season I find my mind wandering over to that shelf full of memories and feeling nostalgic and maybe a bit wistful.
One of the quotes of the Real Simple article that grabbed me was from psychotherapist, Paul Coleman. Many people want to reconnect after an estrangement, but I appreciated Coleman’s thoughts on knowing sometimes there really is no happy ending.
“You’re talking about a real grief and not just about the person who’s gone.”
Coleman also acknowledged that there is anger for many going through an estrangement. And yes, I absolutely have that. Sometimes I have a lot of it.
Coleman says, “underneath the anger, there’s usually sadness. You need to acknowledge, ‘I’m sad because this is a genuine loss.’ Otherwise your feelings will remain stuck.”
So I suppose that is what I am working through now. Usually when I cringe thinking about the holidays it is because I immediately get angry over the events that led to the dissolvement of the family I once knew. Transitioning my emotions from anger to sadness might help me let go. And honestly I really need to let go.
I’m going to focus on celebrating what is front of me this year. But I am also going to allow myself sadness over what is no longer. If you ask me how I am within the next two months you may get wildly different answers depending on the day or my frame of mind. But I AM going to be honest and not attempt to bury my feelings.
And maybe you have complicated feelings around the holiday season as well. I hope you can see that you are certainly not alone. The more I open up, the more I realize how many of us are at the estrangement table. I am shaking off my shame and recognizing the strength it took make healthy choices for my family.
(but I can’t promise I will stop crying about it)
Image of table: Web Agency