When talking to my mom the other day, we were having a discussion about our family dynamics with particular reference to the current season of Christmas. This is often a time when emotions can be running higher than normal for many reasons: expectations, past hurts or disappointments, pressure to see and do too much in a short period of time, over indulgences in foods and drinks that we don’t normally consume outside our regular routines, etc. For me personally, Christmas was such a joyous time as a child. My parents did such a wonderful job at creating the magic of it all for my brother and I. I was always so excited for Christmas day and setting out the cookies for Santa and his reindeers. To this day, I find myself reminiscing about the traditions they created for my brother and I. From the “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree that my dad and brother would usually cut from our property or the forest, from me forcing the question of “Who is the Jesus character anyways and why is He so important?”, from the most scrumptious Christmas treats my mom would bake and the turkey feast we would eat, the meaningful decorations around the house, visiting with my family from both sides, and of course, waiting for Dad to have his morning coffee and something to eat before we could open any presents (and I should mention that I was usually up first, as the youngest member of the household and the rest of my family would tell me to go back to sleep until the more “reasonable” hour of 6 am).
When I was a teenager, I started to notice more things. My parents didn’t seem that happy in their relationship. My brother, who is 4 years older than me, seemed to be up to no good with his teenage antics and he served as a wonderful teacher to me as to what NOT to do when I was his age. Eventually, my brother went traveling when he was 19 to Australia for an indefinite period and my parents divorced that same fall – the year I entered another new school and started grade 11 at Senior High School (1983). And from 1983 until 1990, Christmas was really not much fun anymore for me. I felt torn between my dad and mom, I felt obligated to make Christmas a “joyous” time for my mom and I wanted everyone to get along.
Over time, my mom shared with me why Christmas was such a hard time for her. She grew up in an alcoholic home, with a father that drank away the income he earned and a mother that had to sneak out of the house to get a job to feed her children. She looked after her younger brother because of this and did most of the household chores so that her father would not take his anger out on them anymore. It is completely understandable why she has bad memories and equally understandable why she sought a better experience for her own children when they were young. Interestingly enough, my grandfather died in December 1967, six months after I was born and my parents adopted me, in a drunk driving accident at the age of 50. Thankfully, only he died and only the telephone pole and vehicle were the collateral carnage in the wreck. Emotionally, my mother was able to relax a little knowing the worry of her fathers antics were finally over and the healing of the first 21 years of her life could finally begin.
And, at the age of 66, she is still healing. As she said to me the other day on the phone, “I don’t get it, I keep busy, I keep on doing things and then out of the blue, the feelings just whelm up inside of me and the tears start flowing. I know where it stems from – my dad, and now your brother”. My response to her was this: “Mom, the wound from the memory of your dad is so deep that it cuts to the center of your being. The healing comes when you fully stop, let all the tears flow and on the other side, you will find joy. The reason you keep so busy is to avoid feeling. God forbid any of us should stop and truly feel the pain of life. The healing is in the feeling.
It takes time, sometimes it takes a lifetime, but you only have this one life to live – so it is your choice, keep on doing and running. Or STOP and feel it – all of it. Let the tears flow like a stream, river, lake, ocean, fountain or tsunami and trust in the healing process. Trust me, eventually you will feel better and the tears will stop flowing. Right now, it is like you have a dam or wall of protection built up inside you from the experience of your first 25 years on the planet. You don’t have to defend yourself anymore and you can release that pain for good. Visualize all the pain that these two have caused you like a sack of rocks that you have been carrying over your shoulders for 66 years. It is pretty heavy. Now, imagine setting that sack down, walking away and notice the lightness you are able to feel in your being when you sigh a deep breath of relief – just one breath – from letting go. Now is the time to let go of Grandpa and of my brother, Greg. May you finally have peace this Christmas, even if I am not there to hug you”.
And the best part of this story, my mom is taking my 3 year old step-niece to the neighborhood church in their Swedish town this Christmas to introduce her to the music and the true meaning of this season.
Peace and good will to all
May everyone create meaningful memories and traditions this Holiday season.
Dr. Christina Bjorndal, Leader in Optimizing Health