I AM WRITING THIS ON BLACK FRIDAY. Hah!
Here they come again – the holidays. I wonder how many people remember the actual meaning of the word – HOLY DAYS. No, I am not going to push religion – just sayin’.
Recently I was asked to write an article for my cousin’s newsletter. It is for MS patients, families, and friends in the United Kingdom. I’ve written them for years and they are called, “Letter from America.” This time she asked me to write about holidays in this country. What a surprise. When I started to research I was astonished at just how many holidays we have over here. Hundreds. Each State has its own lists which blew me away. Here are some of them, bearing in mind that holidays don’t start at Christmas – they are with us all the time.
We all know about New Year’s Day, Mothers and Father’s day. Did you know there is also Parents Day on July 23rd? Obviously mothers and fathers are not sufficiently celebrated so that they have to add one more day for the suffering children to dig deep to find money for even more presents. I feel for them; really how daft can one get. We all know about Punxsutawney Phil in February and then Presidents Day and even National Wear Red Day. No comment.
January 16 is Martin Luther King Day, which means a remembrance day is also a holiday. Here’s the odd situation with all these holidays, Presidential and otherwise. This is when the best sales are held. Yes – we are to seriously honour these remarkable people and then get a discount on just about anything. Department stores have massive sales, so huge they are overwhelming. The automobile industry – a new car? Why not. Remember to read the small print.
My heart aches for those in the retail industry. As Black Friday comes directly after Thanksgiving, they have to leave their celebrations in order to be prepared for the rush the following day, some of which start the night before! Quite crazy. Are people really that excited about getting to the stores early to get deals? I wouldn’t know as I dislike shopping intensely and prefer Amazon or small businesses. The only shopping I enjoy is food shopping and that’s another story where I whine about not losing weight!
We just saw the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which stretches miles. Huge floats with all kinds of flowers, humans, and inflated balloons to unbelievable sizes. Dancing in the street (not Bowie and Freddie Mercury I am sorry to say) brass bands and those things they throw all over the place – paper streamers. It’s a wonder people aren’t injured. Miraculously they survive. Thousands of people attend. I’ve always wondered how they manage to be there without going to the loo (toilet) and I really don’t want to ask. You must have understood by now that I am somewhat enchanted with the loo. Just another idiosyncrasy I cherish.
In my recognition of what is the biggest and most confusing event takes place on New Year’s Day in Philadelphia. The Mummers Parade. People go there very early to get a spot and if one is lucky there is someone they know who lives there and they can watch from the window. Others are glued to the television. The Mummers started years ago in England and Ireland – ah, that got you didn’t it. You thought it started in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly following in their footsteps. In parts of Ireland it is still celebrated on St. Stephan’s Day. Then came the Swedes and the Danes with other European interpretations. All very fascinating if one comprehends the presentations. I don’t find it so. The four sections have me beat. Comics, Fancy Bands, String Bands and more fancy bands or have I repeated myself. Told you I was confused. Wikipedia has an interesting history on the subject. Very well researched. The participants are well oiled and it is fascinating to recognise which presenters are feeling no pain or just caught up in the colour and the glory of the day.
I feel rather uncomfortable with some of these celebrations and I know many who feel the same way. The celebrations I want to focus on are Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents, and whomever else Days. There are many children who do not have a father or mother. Some teachers utilize that there are mothers and fathers and that the day is just recognition of the same. I don’t buy it. I used to tell my children it was a Hallmark plot and encouraged them to love me 365 days of the year or even 366 every four years. We laughed about it and I failed miserably as I still get cards and sometime flowers. Truly I don’t want them. In this case America won. It is a solemn state of affairs when children are made to create cards for this occasion for someone they don’t have in their lives. I was a foster child. I know how that feels. Just a thought. I like to make waves. It is a hobby of mine.
Back to today. Actually, before today when the holidays get going – Halloween. That is the first one that causes concern. It is almost a projection for the oncoming Christmas festivities. People who are grieving over any situation are bewildered and see life as they never did before their loss, whatever that loss is. It affects just about everybody who experience the death of a loved one, divorce, post-traumatic stress disorder. The holiday music has already begun and the constant bullying of television ads attack the psyche. That ‘be the first on your street to get this for your child’ is annoying enough. When there is no longer a child, what then?
I have been privileged to be involved with The Compassionate Friends since 1982. I hear all their pain and anguish. Anyone who says holidays are just another day is totally wrong. Bereaved people, in some cases, try to adopt that attitude. It doesn’t work. When pressure comes from just about every source, it is incredibly debilitating for those who are confused, having been recently bereaved and just do not know what to do. Of course going to meetings help, they really do. Having phone numbers of people who can be called in times of distress if they are willing to pick up the phone to call and that’s another story. They don’t want to bother anybody especially over the holiday period. I am usually on call over that time as I know how important it is just to have someone listen.
Some time ago I read in one of the Compassionate Friends newsletters, the following writing. It has helped a lot of people. If you know someone who is enduring this kind of pain, please give them a copy.
HOLIDAY BILL OF RIGHTS FOR THE BEREAVED
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO GO FROM EXSTATIC TO TEARS IN 30 SECONDS.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE EXCITED ABOUT GOING HOLIDAY SHOPPING, ONLY TO GET THERE AND NEED TO LEAVE BECAUSE OF A PANIC ATTACK.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO NOT BE JOYFUL EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO NOT SEND OUT HOLIDAY CARDS. …AGAIN.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO NOT LISTEN TO HOLIDAY MUSIC WHEN I CAN’T BEAR IT.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE QUIET, CONTINUE TO GRIEVE AND BE ALONEWHEN I NEED.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE NOT TO PARTICIPATE IN GIFT EXCHANGES AND HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS AT MY PLACE OF WORK, WORSHIP OR ANYWHERE ELSE.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO LOOK FOR AND FEEL JOY AND LOVE IN THE HOLIDAYS AND MY LIFE. JUST PLEASE DO NOT TRY AND FORCE IT ON ME. I’LL FIND IT ON MY OWN.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BUY A PRESENT AND DECIDE WHERE I CAN SEND IT OR DONATE IT, OR THAT I CAN’T BEAR TO TAKE IT TO THE CEMETERY.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO GET TO MY FAMILY’S HOME LATE AND LEAVE EARLY.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO WALK OUTSIDE AND GET AWAY FOR A BIT OF FRESH AIR WHEN IT GETS TO BE TOO OVERWHELMING.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE ANGRY.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE ALONE WITHMY GRIEF, NOT HAVE FUNNY LOOKS WHEN I MENTION MY BELOVED AND NOT EXPLAIN ANYTHING. I HAVE THE RIGHT TO LONG TO HAVE MY LOVED ONE BACK AND LIFE AS IT WAS.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO FIND A WAY TO HONOUR AND REMEMBER MY LOVED ONE DURING THE HOLIDAYS BY WHATEVER RITUAL I FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH.
I JUST HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE ME…THE ONE WHO NOW EXISTS.
For me, this says almost all and there is another writing based on the Beatitudes by Jacki Deems, a bereaved sibling. This is for those who are in the company of the sadness and don’t know what to do.
BEAUTITUDES FOR THOSE WHO COMFORT
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO DO NOT USE TEARS TO MEASURE THE TRUE FEELINGS OF THE BEREAVED.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO DO NOT ALWAYS HAVE A QUICK COMFORTING ANSWER.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO DO NOT MAKE JUDGEMENTS ON THE BEREAVEDS’ CLOSENESS TO GOD BY THEIR REACTON TO THE LOSS OF THEIR LOVED ONE.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HEAR WITH THEIR HEARTS AND NOT WITH THEIR MINDS.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ALLOW THE BEREAVED ENOUGH TIME TO HEAL.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ADMIT THEIR DISCOMFORT AND PUT IT ASIDE TO HELP THE BEREAVED.
BLESS ARE THOSE WHO DO NOT GIVE UNWANTED ADVICE.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO CONTINUE TO CALL, VISIT AND REACH OUT WHEN THE CROWD HAS DWINDLED AND THE WOUNDED ARE LEFT STANDING ALONE.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO KNOW THE WORTH OF EACH PERSON AS A UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL AND DO NOT PRETEND THAT THEY CAN BE REPLACED OR FORGOTTEN.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO REALISE THE FRAGILITY OF BEREAVEMENT AND HANDLE IT WITH AN UNDERSTANDING SHOULDER.
I find these not only inspiring but educational for people who simply do not know what to do or say. Over the past years I have listened to remarkable speakers who say all they wanted to hear was “I am so sorry” and “Would you like a hug?” Even with those, people differ and don’t even want to hear it. The most helpful piece of advice I give those who are sad and lost is, if you feel you have to go to a party, or visit family or friends, make sure you have your own exit plan. Either drive yourself in your own car or go with someone who you know will leave immediately when you want to. I was caught once for three hours and ever since I follow my own advice. It makes it easier to know there is freedom when you want it.
This has been a very rough year for me. Usually I project like others do on how I will handle the holiday without John, Joan and Peter and three less cards. In the past, I have sent John a card – in the mail with a stamp – and a flower arrangement. This is the third year without him and I gave it some thought. What was missing apart from him, the card and the flowers, I pondered.
Ah, yes. John was always trying to make up for the childhood I never had. He would go to great lengths to get gifts and wrap them carefully. The first year we were together was nuts. I had never seen so many presents. So that is what is missing. In recognizing this, I decided to buy myself some gifts, wrap them and put them under the tree…………..from him. That’s something I teach. There is no right or wrong in grief. It will be done your way.
What others think of you doesn’t matter and as long as you do not hurt yourself or anyone else, go for it. I wish you all joy as you perceive it, an abundance of beautiful memories and remembering the exit plan. Have any kind of holidays you like. It is all up to you. Laughter and music are healing gifts. Share them with those who benefit from them. I know I will.