Every night before I take the dogs out, before I start dinner, before I turn on Bravo—I go through the day’s mail.
And peeking out from today’s stack of catalogs, circulars, and bills is a red Santa stamped foil envelope encasing a card brimming with happy (intact) family pictures. The first holiday card of the season—ugh.
I’m usually finished sending holiday cards by now. The cover picture should have been taken in October and normally I spend November picking a minted.com custom card, and pulling pictures from trips and triumphs to arrange within. Then the kids weigh in on the draft before printing and critiquing my summary of the year’s activities and accolades.
None of that happened. Because my fiancé died 10 months ago.
Can you send a card that says, “Happy Holidays—this year really sucked?” If I could, that would be the cover, with text inside reading: “We’re hoping for a better next year but have learned to lower our expectations. Because it will probably suck again soon.”
Not so merry or bright. But it would get the Brené Brown award for genuine vulnerability (if there was such a thing).
Three years ago I wrote an Elephant Journal article about the Christmas card I created to announce my divorce (which, by the way, was way easier to survive than this year’s tragic event). And here I am again, questioning the worth of sending a holiday card. Why bother? Would anyone read it after the “sucky” part? And can I send one that doesn’t mention the loss we had? It would feel wrong, especially since I announced our engagement in last year’s card. (Why do I send these cards again?)
Despite a cheer deficit, I proceed with the holiday cards, and decide not to gloss over the coffin in the room. Death is a part of life. As Michael A. Singer says in his book The Untethered Soul:
“Death is the greatest teacher in all of life…If with one breath all of this can change, then I want to live at the highest level while I’m alive…You have to be willing to look at what it would be like if death was staring you in the face. Then you have to come to peace within yourself that it doesn’t make any difference whether it is or not.”
I find a card design that allows for separate photos of the kids (as they won’t be together until Christmas) and write the inside text quickly. I was risking descendant disapproval, but given all we’d been through, hoped they wouldn’t sweat this infraction.
When the final cards arrived in the mail, I had a propriety attack: I can’t send these cards—people will think they’re distasteful and throw them away. No one wants to open a card full of Christmas downers.
So I reread what was written weeks before:
“2018 was a year of finding peace and happiness no matter what as early in the year we lost Donna’s fiancé to a massive stroke. An important part of our recovery from this loss was spending many weekends together…”
I outlined our activities and closed with:
“And our furry family members, Yogi Bear and Jake, have been the best source of love, mischief, and comfort. We don’t know what we would have done without them, or the support of our friends and family.”
As 2018 comes to a close, we look forward to a new year filled with peace and joy.
After cringing and criticizing every word choice, I laid down the card. Is it really that sad? Or did I successfully integrate grief into the description of our year? Appropriate, as that is how we lived it. Grief came and went—worse at birthdays and holidays—better with new experiences and immersing activities. And always alleviated by being around those we love—both two-footed and four.
And we all committed to big things since our loss. I retained an accomplished writing coach to guide my book writing efforts. My daughter secured a job months before graduation. And my son achieved several academic honors while working a new part-time job. All accomplished in spite, or maybe because, of our loss. And what it taught us.
If you’ve had a sucky year, how might Singer’s suggestion to live as if death was staring you in the face help you find peace with life as it is, or inspire you to create the life you want? Imagine what our 2019 holidays cards would share if we did.
“You must not be afraid to discuss death. Don’t get uptight about it. Instead, let this knowledge help you to live every moment of your life fully, because every moment matters.” ~ Michael A. Singer