When it’s your first year after losing something – a special person in your life, your marriage, a job, kids leaving the nest - you’re often surprised by how some of those annual holiday decorations can trigger you. Even SLAP you in a way, reminding you things will never be the same. Especially when those decorations involve family members who aren’t around anymore.
That’s what happened the first Christmas after my divorce. My kids and their friends offered to help me decorate. (OK, I bribed them to do it. I needed a good cheer session that year.) Together we hauled out the bins of wreaths and stockings and balls and candles and animatronic statues of Fred Astaire singing White Christmas, many with memories attached. I was fine through most of the mementos… but there was this one item that just pulled the rug out from under me… LITERALLY.
It was a holiday welcome mat with our last name emblazoned on it. You know... the ones you can customize with the father, mother and children and pet characters that match your family. My kids saw me sitting on the steps staring at the mat, silent, for a few moments. Their friends noticed, too. Never again would we be that whole happy animated family like the one in the drawing. Damn, that hurt. But, like many other memories from that year, I put aside those broken feelings, as I also did with the mat… placing it back into the decoration storage bin on top of the empty Christmas tree ornament boxes. I could deal with that later. The kids just watched. I turned up the Christmas music. Onward!
But I had no idea that moment sprouted a plan with them.
We all made it through to Christmas… a quieter, more meager advent season than usual. But I cherished the moments I had with them, and having their friends around more often. On Christmas afternoon, after presents were open, and we enjoyed a lazy jammies morning, some of their friends dropped by. “We have something for you, Mrs. H,” they touted proudly.
I couldn’t imagine what they were hiding behind their backs. But there it was again… the holiday family name welcome mat. But different. My artist daughter, son, and all of their friends had “doctored” the mat with a Sharpee. The name was filled in, unrecognizable. One of the figures was filled in too (now officially a "smudge.") But all around it – around the drawings of me and my daughter and my son and the dog - were drawings of other faces. THEIR faces, along with their names, to show that THEY made up our new family.
A new cast of characters that met here. Felt comfortable here. Ate dinners here, TALKING (with my no cell phone policy.) Teased here. Laughed here. Learned about life and love here.
I looked up to spy their shining faces staring back at me, waiting for a reaction. My mouth dropped open. Tears. Puzzled looks on their faces. And then an avalanche of laughter… first from me, and then from the others.
It was the genesis of a new family. A happier one. With the most precious, symbolic gift of welcome and acceptance that probably started as a joke… but ended up reaffirming my feeling that we were all going to be just fine. In fact, more than fine. Just great, with even more love in our home, with a whole new cast of characters who become a new breed of “family.”
So if you’re ever having one of those moments when you’re dreading the holidays, dodging all those “firsts,” all those uncomfortable moments of heartache, just think… sometimes others will rescue you. Let them. Even if they are your kids and their friends. They are often wise beyond their years.
To many happy new moments for you this year!
Mary Ellen Sokalski
Diva of Direct Marketing.