Legacy of Love

All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
--Leo Tolstoy

Most people assume that Christmas is hardest for children who've stopped believing in Santa Claus. But I think the holidays are the most difficult for those who have experienced a recent loss, through death or divorce, particularly if this is the first or second holiday after their world has been torn asunder.

Many single mothers often feel uncomfortable at Christmas and unconsciously convey this discomfort to their children. One way this is done is by putting off holiday preparations until the very last moment, the throwing everything together in a halfhearted frenzy. Perhaps one of the reasons single women and single mothers experience difficulty during Christmastime is because, deep in their hearts, they think holiday traditions belong only to perfect Norman Rockwell families. The first time a woman newly on her own opens the ornament box alone (if she even bothers to pull it out), she experiences such a sense of loss she may decide not to continue the holiday rituals she once treasured because the comparison of Christmases Past with Christmas Present is too painful.

"What's the point?" she says.

The point is that we all need the reassuring and healing messages that treasured rituals provide. "One of the most important aspects about family traditions - rituals that families continue to do year after year - is that traditions have symbols and families need symbols," Dr. Steven J. Wolin, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University Medical School, explains: "you bring out the old glass, you sing the old songs, you say the same prayer, you wear a certain outfit, you set the table in a certain way." These are the unconscious moments of family ritual that become emotional security blankets to be tugged on in times of stress.

Cherished customs are just as important for grown women as they are for children. When I first began updating Victorian traditions for modern families, I thought the reason I delighted in doing them was so that I could create happy memories for my daughter. But after a few years, I realized that our rituals brought me comfort and joy. I longed for the reassuring rhythm of marking the seasons just as much as Katie did. We need to trim the tree, light the menorah, make the Valentines, dye the Easter eggs, attend the Passover seder just as much as our children do. Our souls can never outgrow the yearning for luminous and liminal moments of Wholeness.

So unpack those beloved holiday traditions. Create new ones that express your authenticity, just as you create a new lifestyle. "Traditions are the guideposts driven deep into our subconscious minds," Ellen Goodman tells us. "The most powerful ones are those we can't even describe, aren't even aware of."

-Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance - A Daybook of Comfort and Joy©1995

This is my letter to the world.
--Emily Dickinson

This is the time of year that we may get That Christmas Letter from someone who is so successful or seemingly perfect that you think they must have reached celebrity status by now. Do they ever tire of telling you how perfect their life is, how their absolutely perfect children are excelling in school or sports, and Hubby is being promoted, also Wifey is state president of the PTA, their wonderful vacation to wherever-it-is-that-is-fashionable-this-year, year after year, la la la... This letter comes each year, and it feels like fingernails on the blackboard of our life. It's not a Real Letter, is it? You get the sanitized version of their lives.

It's about time you sat down, and wrote yourself a letter, of the kind that you would really like to receive at this time of year. It is both to and from yourself. Outline your life in glorious detail - exactly what you are doing, how you are doing it, and who is doing it with you. This is not a letter for any other eyes but yours. It is a letter to the Universe, telling of your aspirations, and your accomplishments. Speak of the hope and disappointment, of the courage and fear, of the tears of joy and tears of sadness, all of which went into the making of this year. Tell it like it is. Speak from the heart. You know the reader of this letter will grasp what you are saying.

Write a letter that tells about the small and large successes YOU have had this year. Write about how you have grown and learned, about the small acts of kindness that you have experienced and passed on. Write about the understanding you have gained about those around you, and about insights you have gained about yourself, and how things as they were in your life came to be, and how your life has changed during the last year.

Talk of those dreams you had at this time last year, and how some of them have come true and some have not. Speak of the mistakes you have made and the lessons you have learned. Lay out your old bad habits that are being worked on, and those that have been overcome, as well as those you still have. Tell of the new activities in your life, the new ways of thinking and acting and speaking and loving and understanding. Go on about the new friends, the growth of relationships with family or old friends, the changes that those who work with you or live with you have seen.

Be straight with yourself about the losses you have experienced - the people in your life that have hurt you, or passed away, or moved away from you in one way or another. The value that you placed in things that you wanted and didn't get, or had once but now are gone. Take the time, too, to write about the abundance that you do have in your life - simple things like food, shelter, health, employment, someone who loves you, someone to love, or the fact that you have lived another year. Talk about the sad times and the happy times, the good and the bad. Be the cheerleader and the detractor, the victim and the victor, the saint and the sinner - but truly be yourself, and tell the story as only you know it.

This is a process that will engage your emotions as well as your creativity. It helps you to be objective and subjective at the same time. It will help you change reverie into something you can hold in your hands, like a yardstick, which measures you honestly. This Letter will not be the sanitized version. So when it is finished, put it away where it will be safe and secure. Perhaps in your journal, if you have one, or in the underwear drawer where burglars look for the valuable stuff first. Whatever. Keep it until next year, then break it out and read it again. I guarantee that you will appreciate this letter more than any other Christmas Letter you will receive. Because this is a Real Letter, from someone who knows you, and cares about you, and understands you, and loves you.


email: Michael@N-Spire.com

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