Holiday Cards as Emotional Landmines

Holiday cards seem pretty innocuous on the surface, right?  Christmas cheer, seasons’s greetings, Happy New Year and all that jazz.  There’s nothing too complicated about people you know, like, and possibly love wishing you the best during the holiday season.  Except sometimes, for some people, there is.  It can get very complicated.

On Facebook over the past few weeks, for the first time ever, I started to see fellow Cancer Mothers share their annual angst about what to do, what to do, what to do with the tradition of sending and receiving holidays cards. I have felt it myself for years, but didn’t realize others had the same complicated feelings.  When your own life does not seem to match the smiling faces staring back at you on the holiday cards, it can add an extra layer of hurt during what may be an already difficult time of year.

Some of these fellow Cancer Moms wished their friends and family understood the pain and grief they felt looking at families that were whole and happy.  Some felt the practice of sending photos cards to grieving families was insensitive.  Others felt pain when thinking about their own families, having children with special needs from surviving their cancer treatment, or being financially strapped that sitting for a photo, ordering special cards, or affording the postage was beyond their means.  There was anger that others did not even stop to consider the family that would receive the holiday card and what it might mean to them to be told “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!,” when both those things seemed so far out of the realm of possibility.

Despite never sending my own holiday cards, I have always enjoyed receiving them.  I would hang them happily, if a bit wistfully, in our front hall and admire all the happy children and happy scenes that played out before me as I walked past to pick up the mail or sweep the hallway.  I often kept the cards displayed well into the New Year, reluctantly taking them down around Valentine’s Day.

That changed last year and I don’t know why.  I didn’t open up a single holiday card last year.  Not a one.  I couldn’t.  It was too much, somehow.  I even went to the trouble of buying a decorative box to keep them in so I wouldn’t lose track of them.  But those cards never got opened.  Ugh.  Not only was there the guilt of not sending cards out myself, but now the guilt of leaving these cards unopened.  It was miserable.

Blessedly, in good times and bad, the calendar keeps moving forward. Soon the holidays morphed into winter and winter into spring and the cards that contributed to so many difficult feelings just moved to the back burner. But sure enough, it’s the holidays again.  Damn calendar.

Every year I tell myself, “This is the year!,”  It’s gonna happen.  You are gonna get your holiday ducks in a row and figure out how to make one of those snazzy photo cards that so many families do and you are gonna write pithy messages and address those envelopes and slap some stamps on those suckers.  This is the year I will scale that seemingly insurmountable Mt. Everest of equal parts organization, responsibility, and discipline that sending holiday cards require.

And you know what?  This year was the year.  I did it!  I picked those photos and chose a design and wrote a few words that integrated Donna and added a  pithy messages and addressed those envelopes and licked those stamps and posted those suckers this morning, December 22.

I freaking did it.  I am feeling so proud of myself.

Such a beautiful sight!

It truly is a Christmas miracle!

The thing I have learned about grief, am still learning about grief, is that it changes.  It ebbs, it flows.  It comes, it goes.  There is not always a rhyme or reason to it.  I sent those cards not out of guilt or obligation this year, but because this year I wanted it.  I prioritized it.  And it didn’t feel oppressive. Well, okay, the addressing did feel a tiny bit oppressive.  but the process of making them did not feel oppressive or obligatory.  This year I had a desire to participate, to pull up a chair at the holiday table, Kleenex in hand.

I’ve been working hard to monitor my Facebook use this year and it seems to have helped.  I am worrying less about what others are doing that I am not and more about what I can and want to do.  It’s working and I am grateful.  And this year the holiday cards I have received have been opened, each and every one of them.  I didn’t hang them up, but I have enjoyed looking at them every day.  They, too, don’t feel oppressive.

Amen for small victories over grief.

The merriest of seasons to you, whatever it is you celebrate.  And remember to practice gentle kindness towards yourself, during the holidays and every day.  

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