Grieving through the joy of the season
It was the first of December, and my Advent calendars were ready to go. Two handmade creations stocked full of sweets, little gifts, Bible verses and activities for each day up until the 25th. This was a new tradition that I had started when my eldest was 2 years old, making this particular year my third year. I felt like a pro, and proud in the fact that I had been successful in creating and sticking with a tradition.
Last year, we had our last Christmas as a family. My then-husband was leaving for work overseas coming February, with me and the kids supposed to follow a few months later, and so we tried everything to celebrate the entire Christmas season with as many family members as possible. Unbeknownst to him, I knew it would be our last Christmas as a two-parent family, since I already knew I would not be joining him with the kids later in the year.
Knowing this, I really tried to make it special. I guess we both did, although for two very different reasons. We did extra things, gave extra presents, dragged out the celebrations and went all out. The kids loved it. Me? I hated every moment.
Not only did it feel as if I were betraying myself with every fake smile, but I knew all these traditions that I had worked so hard to start would most probably die with my marriage. My poor kids – would Christmas ever be the same, magical time to them as it was during this time?
Even before the word “divorce” crossed my lips, I already knew a lot of heartache would be in the near future. I knew I was starting out on a journey of no return, and that nothing will ever be the same again. I never would have been able to predict just how much things would have changed.
A year later, I am facing my first Christmas as a single mama.
We are now a single parent family, and that brings a few restrictions and challenges. Because their dad lived overseas and then came back on short notice, after we already booked our Christmas holiday, the kids will be with me the two weeks over Christmas and New Years. I realise this is not the norm – from next year we will have to share both Christmas as well as New Years.
This season has asked that I really assess our situation and bring in a few changes. I realised that I would not only have to let go of a few traditions that I had previously loved, but I will really have to focus on creating new ones. Covid-19 has not helped at all!
A few of the things I had to change:
I skipped the Advent calendar this year and might forego it entirely in the years to come. It is hard to work out a calendar that needs to skip every second weekend (when they go to their dad’s), plus I might have an activity scheduled in the calendar that he ends up doing with them on his weekend. So, to stop my head from exploding I rather made a list of possible things we could do, and each day before I fetch the kids from school, I quickly plan one of the things. So far it has worked well.
Presents. In the past I loved to lavish the girls with gifts. From this year on, they will be getting almost double the number of gifts, so I decided to fall back a bit. I chose gifts that focussed more on experiences and doing things rather than toys, with the hope that we will not be giving them doubles of items.
The focus. I have written a bit about this in previous posts, and this year I have really tried to focus on the real reason for Christmas. We read more, talk more, and pray more. If this is one tradition that I succeed in cementing, then I am one happy mama!
Going away for Christmas – we never used to plan our holidays around Christmas, feeling that it was a holiday that was meant to be shared by family. But because our family is now divided, and the grief is still too raw, I decided to take the kids away for Christmas. Back then I did not know their dad would be back in the country, but in retrospect, I am grateful that it has worked out this way. So for the first time in the kids’ lives, we are away for Christmas!
Doing ALL the things. As in, the whole shebang. In the past, we made gingerbread houses and wreaths, wrote letters to Santa and baked cookies for the reindeers, coloured in, went to every Christmas show or concert, watched all the Christmas movies I could get my hands on, made wrapping paper, made edible gifts, and more. This year, I toned it down. Way down. We have watched a few movies, wrote letters, and drove around looking for lights. The rest? Maybe next year when I have more energy and bandwidth.
A tradition that I started last year, and decided to keep, is the Elf on a shelf. We have 4 elves – 2 from last year (I thought they were gone so bought new ones, and then found them when I unpacked a forgotten box) and 2 new ones for this year. The 4 of them get up to all sorts of mischief and cause chaos all through the house. The kids love them. I use them to announce our activities, and every second weekend they get to rest and relax.
Staring at this special day on the calendar I am both cautiously optimistic and sad. The joy of the season is tainted by my own season, and very little of the feelings I am experiencing are pleasant. Christmas should be a time of reflection and gratitude, both of which I am struggling with at the moment. But I know this is only a season, and this too shall pass.
My first Christmas as a single mama. My first Christmas where I had to do it all, alone. But as much as I am aware of all the endings, and all we have lost, I also realise this is the start of new beginnings, and that we are entering a time of joyous abundance.
If this is your first Christmas as a single parent, I want you to know that I am thinking of you. But I also know, we are going to be ok.