Everybody talks about friends and family gatherings during the holiday season, the fun, the food, the reunions, the surprises, and yet you hear very little about the hollow feeling that settles in when you are one of the ones who knows that the key people in your life will be missing. I don’t know what it feels like anymore to not be coping with the absence of my key people. I try not to discuss it much – it’is a downer. And I do not like spreaders of doom and gloom. I refuse to be one of those. Denial is a powerful coping mechanism that seldom does the trick in these circumstances, because you cannot deny an empty chair or an unset table on Christmas Day. Other people attempt to fill in the hole in your life by inviting you to join them and thank goodness for that. And yet…
Absence is a harsh reality to cope with that brings strong feelings along the sensitive lines of abandonment. Absence brings nagging feelings of unworthiness on the part of the one left behind. Rationally you do not want to believe that, but a tiny voice nags at you. You wonder if you are not worth the visit. Are the reasons for the absences valid.
Oh the circumstances of the absences are valid. They really are. The reasons are logical, mostly. Issues of geography, money, demanding jobs – you know the reasons you think are valid and ones that you believe are not. But logic is irrelevant at various times in life when you, me and others like us are counting the number of holiday seasons, summers, winters, birthdays, that might be left to us. My favorite Thanksgiving of all time was the one when my daughter appeared at the front door, during an epic blizzard, having flown home from college at a time when we decided we should not spend the money for her to come home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The doorbell rang and I opened it to her smiling face, snowflakes as big as cotton balls swirling around. Logic became irrelevant at that point in time, because I was nuts with happiness. Sometimes you just have to do stuff against all reason. Those times are the memorable ones, obviously – quite obviously. So who the hell cares what the reasons are, for your inability to be home, and what has happened to that timeless belief that you make it home for the holidays no matter what? Just like the mailman – you deliver the goods come rain, hail, sleet or snow, and you are happy and honored to be able to do it. In support of this “old-fashioned” theory, witness the thousands of people at the airports, the train stations, the bus stations and on the highways trying to get home. In time. For the big day. No excuse. People want to be with the people they love the most. It is a strong pull – love is a universal magnet.
There are many ways that compensation can be made for absences during the holidays and for birthdays. A special time spent together doing something else is always good. You and those you love learn the best of the tricks, hopefully, getting creative and crafty with what you offer and employ as “substitutes” if such a thing exists, and memories are made at other places and times that might actually work out to being better overall, sort of. Maybe. Christmas does not have to happen on the 25th, because hopefully you can make it happen in your heart on whatever day works. Birthdays are the type of party that can last for days, with celebrations strung out and enjoyed over time. Children, lovers, friends, parents, grandchildren and other favorite people in your life whom you care for deeply are often very good at “making up” for days when they could not be present in your life. Any and all substitutions help, but the actual day of importance remains empty of their happy companionship. And so there you are. You get up in the morning alone and you do the best you can all day long to display a half-assed crazy looking fake smile and you go to bed alone at night, just like any other damn day. You heave a sigh of relief the next morning that the red letter day is over for another year. Really. You can forget about it.
That is no way to live. Wishing away the holidays and the birthdays and the special times that are not so special is no way to live.
My only advice here is to fill your life with the people who are geographically near to you. I grant you, they are not the actual people you would rank as the number one people in your life, and they already know that, but usually they are nice enough and humble enough to offer themselves up as warm bodies with pulses, lending some fun and food and happiness and they do care about you. They want to be used. They are selfless and giving. And they are present. They are with you.
It is a heavy load to carry, being away from your key people on life’s special days. But remember the load is carried at both ends – the ones absent feel it as well. So you gather your strength, you count your blessings, you offer thanks for all that is good, true and beautiful in your life and you carry on. If at some point it is all too much, you pack your little bag and you do the traveling to them, showing up at their door. Happy surprise!