Happy New Year everyone!
This post is not about the lighter side of Christmas, but I finally had the courage to find the right words, so here it is.
I’ve tried to write this so many times over the past weeks and today I got it out. I guess I felt the need to share this with you. We might be in the same boat and it’s good to know we’re not alone.
Not all days are sunny days, and not all Christmases are easy in life. I’m well aware some will be worse. So far I’ve been pretty lucky with how many people in my family are still around.
A year and three months ago, I lost my youngest uncle to a heart attack, at 47. He was a happy, silly and joyful person, who loved to cheat at board games and make us laugh. So, obviously, in a large family that gets together on the 24th, Christmas is not the same without him. But, life goes on and we’re learning to live with as much of the same joy as we used to live with when he was around.
Life changes and the fear of missing out
This last Christmas has come and gone. In the blink of an eye, quicker than a hurricane. Full of emotions, a whirlwind of them. A mixture of the happiness of being together and the sadness of not feeling whole.
It used to be a very happy place. Exciting and fun, a big table full of people who share our blood and/or we consider family. But now, it also feels like sadness. Slightly bittersweet.
The older generation is slowly disappearing; he was too young to be gone. Whilst we can accept that, the older we get, the more chances there are of us not being there next time, we’re never ready for younger loved ones to leave us forever.
One of the worst things about living abroad is missing moments with family. It’s what I dread the most – not being there when it matters.
Because you never know when the last gathering is, that one moment where “everyone” is going to be there. The one you miss might be the last one.
So, you fight to be there for those moments. You try your best and make an effort to get there on time. But sometimes life and work get in the way, and you’re not there. Planes aren’t cheap, days off are limited. And sometimes, that gathering is the last one where everyone was there. Together.
And you weren’t.
Driving home for Christmas
Portugal is where our family is.
Up until we drove over the bridge towards Lisbon, I had been excited. I’d laughed and smiled the whole way through our drive from Faro in the south of Portugal, where we’d flown into.
I was longing to crush my mom and dad with my bear hugs and kisses. Annoy my youngest brother about his long hair. Annoy the other brother about his missing eyebrow. And lovingly hug my gorgeous sister-in-law.
But driving across the bridge it hit me. As if the south and north were worlds apart.
Tears started streaming down my face and I tried to hide them from my husband. I let them fall in complete silence. Looking out of the window into the darkness of the night.
We got home and the car stopped. Sometimes you try to be brave, but what I really needed was to break down and let it out. Let my husband hug me and then wait a couple of minutes for most of it to wash away. I guess I’ve been missing him too much, but haven’t allowed myself to cry over him for a while. And only then get out of the car, get home, smile for my family and make them happy with my arrival.
I used to love Christmas so much. Even as an adult, Christmas was great. We would come together every year, we’d buy presents for each other, we’d play games or watch a film. But then the cousins who lived abroad started missing Christmas. I started missing Christmas. And then my youngest uncle missed Christmas for eternity. And even though this year was slightly easier, it will never be the same…
I still love Christmas! And I think new babies will eventually make it better. But it’s not the same and it will hurt every time.
We learn to adapt and move forward
I truly believe the key is to keep moving on and up. To appreciate and enjoy everyone who’s still with us, for as long as they’re here.
Nothing can give us our loved ones back, but we can still enjoy the ‘now’ with the people who are still here. No one knows when their last day will be and life flies by so quickly. So I refuse to not enjoy the present when there’s nothing I can do about what happened in the past. Sure, it’s easier said than done, but, at the end of the day, this philosophy works.
This year, we, as a family, made sure Christmas was above all a happy place. A good night to remember.
When someone was overcome with emotion, someone else was there. Giving a hug and turning that urge to cry into a laugh. When someone had to leave the room with “something in his eye” we gave them space, we let them be. But we knew we could lean on each other for ‘balance’ if needed. Our family in Switzerland called with a moving image and sound and we felt closer. My little cousin filled us with joy and we were fine.
Christmas can still be a happy place. It has to be. A time to be grateful for what we have, to remember with love what we lost and keep the happy memories alive. Change things to create better new memories. After all, for the first time in more than 10 years, my separated grandparents spent Christmas in the same room! And even though they sat on opposite sides of the table, they shared meals with their ‘kids’ and grandkids. In true Christmas spirit.
I’m so grateful for my family and whenever possible I’m not missing Christmas. We’re a man down, who we are missing deeply and it will be tough for years to come. But there’ll be more additions to our family in the future, and it will become easier.
No matter how many there are of us, we’ll be together. We will be family. And Christmas will be as perfect as we allow it to be.