The holidays — Thanksgiving and Christmas both — are hard for me. Really hard.
I have come to associate them with sickness, paralyzing fear on all fronts, and, truthfully, death. My late wife Lois — who died of cancer on May 7, 2012 — was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma at this time of year seven years ago, one day after Thanksgiving and less than three weeks after the birth of our daughter, Katie. What was supposed to be a magical, happy time of celebrating new life instantly turned into a terrifying time of scrambling to do all we could — medically, physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, financially — to preserve existing life.
Lois was essentially given one year to live. She fought tenaciously and, through virtually nonstop weekly treatments at Mayo Clinic, survived four and a half, along the way spending one more Thanksgiving Day in the hospital. And a Christmas there too.
These stories are difficult for me to talk about, even with the people who are closest to me. Who in their right mind, I often think to myself, could possibly want to hear about all of this pain? It’s challenging enough to write about it here, although at least it’s starting to come out this way.
Put all of my memories together with my introverted penchants for quiet solitude, deep thinking, and soothing calm and it’s no wonder I often find myself struggling to look forward to the holidays and the gatherings that go with them.
I don’t want to feel this way. Especially because I do love and enjoy the many family and friends in my life and I don’t want to somehow hurt them, if only unintentionally. Yet I also don’t want to be someone I’m not. I can’t.
I talked with my lovely fiance Adrianne about all of this last night. She’s an introvert too — we’re actually the exact same Myers-Briggs type of INFJ — but she seems so much better at the holidays than I am.
She has her own pain to deal with: This is the time of year (December 12, 2012 to be exact) when she lost her late husband Greg to suicide. So the holidays hurt for her too in many ways. She hurts for herself and, like me, she hurts for our four kids.
But she’s a wise one, and she’s encouraging and reminding me to give the holidays a fighting second chance. To work — perhaps with the help of a counselor (a good idea) — toward recapturing them as the joyous, love-filled times they really are. To envision them anew, and to establish new traditions and memories through our emerging blended family as well as our emerging blended extended families.
I can do that. And I will.
But in order to pull it off, I’m going to have to do something that doesn’t come as easily to me as writing does. I’m going to have to start talking about what’s inside of me, letting my mouth complement the work of my fingers. I’ll need to be present, figuratively as well as literally, knowing that people care how I’m doing and trusting that it’s not some bizarre conflict of interest to be who I really am as an introvert while actively letting people in at the same time.
This will be my holiday challenge.
Actually, it will be my holiday gift. One I want to give. And receive.