Tag Archives: grief and holidays

Hearing Silent Night Makes Me Cry

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her daughter Marika Warden playing christmas carols.Thanksgiving wasn’t even over yet last week when the stores started playing Christmas songs. This music was foreign to me until many years ago when my young daughter became a girl scout and we went caroling. We’d go home and I’d marvel at how she reproduced the tunes on her flute or pennywhistle. Now, hearing Silent Night and other carols makes me cry uncontrollably.

I remember the first time holiday music pummeled me. It was in early December, eight years ago, when I was stuck alone at the Ronald MacDonald House near the hospital where my daughter was waiting for a stem cell transplant. It was before everything went downhill for Marika, before I had any inkling it would be her last Christmas. There were only a couple of people staying at the RMD House that night, and the staff begged us to gather for the visiting musicians. Seated up close in a rocking chair, I listened, sniffling, confused about how the music was affecting me. By the time they began Silent Night, I was trembling and hugging myself, trying to hold in my howls.

This September, I began learning to play a red plastic cornet. It has nothing to do with my daughter, I told people, even though everything I’ve done since Marika died has been about her. This was just for me, I insisted—I wanted to play bugle calls. Taps in particular. Whenever I hear Taps, my heart stops. Same thing with Amazing Grace and Hallelujah. I want to play music that tugs at people’s heartstrings. So far I’m just a beginner still fumbling my way through scales and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Yet, I find playing comforts me. And last week, in a meltdown as Silent Night emanated from every corner of the mall, I raced home to my cornet. Then, instead of practicing Twinkle Twinkle, I googled ‘silent night sheet music.’

When I first tried to play Silent Night I sobbed between each note. Huffing and puffing my way up to the second-to-last line, “Sleep in heavenly pea-eeece,” I found the notes were suddenly too high for me to reach. I was fighting to conquer each measure—but then something changed. I started over, and played the piece—minus the five impossibly high notes—like it was one of those jaw-dropping awesomely beautiful tunes I’d been yearning to play. Only five high notes away from making beautiful music, I blew that horn like my song could reach to heaven and back.

I don’t know yet if my practicing the heck out of Silent Night will help desensitize the powerful emotional trigger Christmas music has become. But I’m beginning to understand the healing power of music. And now, in playing my cornet, I’m feeling an even stronger connection than ever to my daughter.

  

What are the songs that make you cry? What are the triggers you’re experiencing this holiday season? What connects you to your loved ones who died? Got any recommendations for other simple but powerful tunes I could learn?

 

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How to Handle Holiday Stress

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a cumulonimbus cloud of holiday stress, grief, sadness, and fear to illustrate how to handle holiday depression.
This is supposed to be a time of joy. Miracles. Magic. But for some of us the holidays are like dark cumulonimbus clouds gusting with severe turbulence, powerful updrafts and downdrafts, lightning, thunder, and large flying lumps of hail. It’s a season of stress. Sadness. And maybe even fear. It feels like something big is going to happen.

It’s not like anything has to happen at all. If you don’t want to face the festivities you can treat yourself like you have a cold: acknowledge your pain and pamper it. Curl up in a cozy blanket with a good book or a movie. Take a long nap. Have tea and cinnamon toast. If you tell people you have a cold they gratefully accept your regrets for not showing up and sharing. And those who love you might understand if you tell them the truth: holidays hurt and you just don’t want to do them this year.

No one needs to do the regular holiday routine, the shopping, decorating, baking, gifting, … partying. On these shortest, darkest, coldest days and longest nights of the year, go easy on yourself. Give yourself permission to opt out of the whirlwind of activity. Find what brings you comfort. What will give you peace, or some small private joy?

Have a Blue Christmas. Buy a box of chocolates just for you. Light all the Chanukah candles at once and plant them in the snow. Write a letter to someone you miss. Get out to see the stars, a sunrise or sunset. Sit with a ninety-five-year old. Watch a sleeping newborn. Give a dog a belly-rub. Take a walk in the dark with a friend and flashlights. Clean out the household catch-all drawer. Help serve food at a local soup kitchen. Or stay in bed with a hot water bottle. Celebrate whatever and whenever you get inspired.

So let the holidays begin. And when they get to be too much, do them Your Way.

 

What would you do on your ideal holiday?

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Dancing with Turkeys

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, dances with a turkey.I WILL make a turkey for my son for Thanksgiving. Even if I’m wailing during the whole process. Even though my son and and I will be feasting elsewhere for the holiday. I will roast a turkey. I want to have a huge platter of bird in the fridge. A plate full of turkey in our own home means we are okay, that our tiny family is surviving, that life goes on.

This will be my fifth Thanksgiving without my daughter. I’m learning how to handle it.
Remembering Marika in the kitchen tearing breadcrumbs for the stuffing and baking carrot cake, I’ve learned that one can simultaneously grieve and be grateful. Last year I called it Thanksgrieving. This year it is Dancing with Turkeys, as I dash all over town to dine in three different households before coming home to the turkey in my fridge.

Here are my holiday tips for grievers:

  1. Treat yourself like you’re the guest of honor. Our beloveds won’t be seated at the table but they are seated in our hearts. So carry on the way they would want and be good to your self.
  2. Allow yourself to cry. Let the pain gush out in tears. Pull out old photos, phone your sister in Florida to reminisce, chop onions, and cry like a lemon being juiced.
  3. Allow yourself to smile, maybe even laugh, at the memories of sweet times. Remembering and making memories are the real gifts of holidays.
  4. Focus on what you have, not on what you’ve lost. What are the lessons you learned from your loved one? What was gifted? What has changed your life?
  5. If you can’t find something to be thankful for, do something nice for another. The most joy can come from giving someone else something to be grateful about.

So go do this holiday, my friends. Whether you gather with others, or chow down your dinner standing alone over the kitchen sink, I am sending you my warmest wishes. We are going to be okay. We are surviving. Life goes on. You are not alone.

 

How do you grieve and be grateful at the same time?

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