Holidazed

Pretty much the day after Halloween ends, the Christmas season begins. Or at least in every store it does! I feel like the Christmas decor starts sneaking out earlier and earlier, and it makes me a little mad. Thanksgiving hasn’t even happened yet- can we just Ho-Ho-Hold on please?

The holidays seem to go by fast enough on their own, so why do we feel like we need to rush on to the ones that haven’t even happened yet? Slow down people! Let’s savor each holiday and actually enjoy them for once!

Buy! Buy! Buy!

I’m gonna be honest, I have found myself relating so much to Cindy Lou Who in the Jim Carrey version of ‘The Grinch’ so much in the past few years. At the beginning of the film, (which my kids have been watching on Netflix since like May), she is with her Father Christmas shopping and holding an enormous stack of presents. She is watching the chaos around them as people are hurrying to buy as much as they can in the rush before Christmas. Cindy turns to her father and says:

Everybody seems to kerbabbled. Isn’t this just a little superfluous?

I agree. 100%. The stuff, all the stuff really isn’t so important. It is, in fact, superfluous. What IS important is making valuable memories with your families, and remembering the real spirit of Christmas which is giving and love. I loved my presents of course as a kid, but the magic of the holidays and our family traditions were what I looked forward to and remember most fondly. Some of my most favorite memories as a kid? Going to cut down our tree, baking cookies with my mom, decorating our tree, having our holiday celebrations with our adopted family the Quinns, Mannheim Steamroller on repeat, and going to see the Wanamaker’s Christmas Light show in downtown Philly. The stuff? Although of course meaningful at the time, is all but forgotten now.

My husband and I have been trying to be more conscious of giving our children more useful gifts. We get them at least one of their “wants” from their lists, (come on we are not monsters!), but then try to give them something educational. The past two years we have gotten various Smithsonian encyclopedia books which have been a huge hit, and last year we got a huge box of geodes that they could smash open themselves. We also make it a point that Santa brings us new board games and card games we can play as a family. Game nights are big in our house, and it’s a great way for us to spend time together and connect in a fun way. He also always brings the kids each a new book- reading is big with us too!

This year, we have also been trying to do more “experience” gifts like classes or tickets to events or performances. Getting out and experiencing something to me is far more meaningful than a toy. I am in no way parent shaming anyone. We still get our kids plenty of toys, but we are really trying to focus on what would be the most beneficial for our kids too.

Blue Christmas

Unfortunately this season of joy can also trigger really strong emotions. Depression, anxiety, and any other mental illness can be exacerbated tremendously. There always seems to be more and more pressure to have the best Christmas ever. We are constantly bombarded by movies, ads, signs, and social media telling us: our holiday decor needs an upgrade, reminding you how you’re still single, that your life isn’t where you want it to be, that you need to lose weight for the new year, how much your cooking sucks, and that you have to buy presents to show everyone you love them. I mean, I could go on and on.

This evening as my husband and I were putting up our house lights outside, he asked me a question that has been floating around my mind ever since. He said:

“What’s the point of all this? Don’t you think in a way that we have all taken the holidays to this extreme and we have lost sight of what it’s really about?”

I think this is true, but that you also need a good balance. For instance, I think the decorations and lights help make this season so magical for my kids! I love pulling out my boxes every year and watching the kids eyes light up as they re-discover favorite ornaments or nativity scenes we have. The magic needs to remain, but don’t go overboard and become Clark Griswald or anything.

For the second year, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has installed giving machines in some major cities around the US and the world. They sort of work like vending machines, but you are paying to give to people in need. It can be as small as glasses or socks, and as big as a cow! Your money will go towards buying what you choose and someone here or abroad will be given that special thing. I think this is such an amazing idea and gives people an opportunity to spread love.

Photo by R Scott Lloyd from Lds.org

Let’s just remember to be extra kind to those who need it this season too. Reach out to people who are single and maybe bring them some homemade Christmas cookies or invite them for dinner. If you have someone you know that struggles with their mental health, make sure they know they are loved this time of year too. A little love goes a long way.

Keeping the Memories Alive

For me, Christmas is especially hard without my mom. Everything reminds me of her, including most of the decorations I now have in my home that were hers. I have found myself this past week particularly missing her, and getting an ache in my chest as I wished she was still here.

The best thing we have done and will continue to do, is keep her memory alive by keeping traditions going.

Mom started these candy sleigh races when we were in high school when she was a seminary teacher. It was a fun game to keep her students motivated early in the morning, but it also became a favorite family Christmas time activity. The object is to create a sleigh out of candy- a large bar is the base and two candy canes are the runners. You can add as much or little candy as you want to try and make your sled faster. The names of the sleighs are always fun too. Then we turn a table on its side so it slopes down and we have heats and race them until there is a winner. My kids and my brothers kids look forward to it every year!

My stepmom has been really sweet and continued this tradition with our family, and has even started doing it with her own kids!

When I find my heart feeling heavy this season because I feel like I am not doing enough, or that the pain of missing my mom is too much, I will really try to spread some love instead. I have always found that helping others gives me so much joy. I want my kids too to understand how privileged they are and to remember to give back because they can. The reason for the season is not the stuff, it’s love. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of our Savior, not the presents under the tree. We need to remember to spend time and make memories with our loved ones, or give back to those who are less fortunate.

So, thanks to Cindy Lou Who and her inspiration – I won’t find myself kerbabbled this year!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

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Pain is Beauty

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”Mommy I need my Batman costume!”  My three year old demanded me this morning. I was avoiding getting up even though I had been awake since about 7 am. Today hurts. My heart was heavy when I went to bed last night, knowing the emotions and emptiness today would bring. Somehow though, my son demanding his favorite costume got me to smile, and I was able to get myself out of bed.

Three years ago today my mom was rushed by an ambulance to the hospital. My sister in law Melissa discovered her on the floor of her bedroom early that morning and it was clear she had been in distress all night unknown to anyone. My dad was out of town for work so she had been alone.

As the day went on she was admitted into the hospital from the ER with acute pneumonia and was continually going downhill. By 3 PM the doctors told us she probably wouldn’t survive the night, and by 6:30 PM she was gone.

I have concluded through the harrowing experience of losing my mother that the painful experiences we go through in life can bring great sorrow, but also great beauty.

What’s Lost is Found

Soon after Mom passed away, my siblings and I along with my brothers wife, and now former brother in law and sat down on the floor in the hospital hallway. We were all heartbroken by what had just happened, and the emotions in the room when Mom slipped away from us were very strong. In the hallway, however, our moods got a bit lighter as we started telling stories about Mom. We re-lived some of our favorite childhood memories, and things that Mom did that were special. It may be hard to believe, but we were laughing, genuinely laughing! In that night the loss of our Mom brought us together in a sibling unity, and I am grateful for that tender mercy.

The next day, we had the hard task of visiting the funeral home and planning out the funeral and picking a casket. It all felt surreal that we were doing this for Mom, but once we got back to my parents home we began to dig through boxes of photos to find some for a slideshow that would be shown at the funeral.

Once again, even though our hearts were breaking the mood was lightened. Dad told lots of stories about the pictures we were finding and we found ourselves laughing through the tears.

I grabbed Mom’s journals too. I sat for two hours and read through one of them. I couldn’t stop reading her words- it was like she was there next to me telling me her stories. There is so much we didn’t know about the struggles she went through, and having those words is something I will cherish forever. It’s a huge reason why I am very vigilant in making sure I always journal too. I want my kids and grandkids to have the same treasure of my words when I am gone.

Turning the Bad Into Good

My son momentarily snapping me out of my grief this morning so I could help him is just a small example of what I am aiming to do. Even if it was just finding his beloved Batman costume. If he hadn’t gotten me up I’m sure I would have laid around reveling in my sadness. Later today, my sister Aly and I are using all the donated funds to buy the rest of our items needed for our cancer care packages we will be taking in memory of Mom to the Huntsman Cancer Institute on Tuesday. Using the pain we have gone through to do good helps make the pain just a little more bearable.

Ever since Mom died, I have tried to do good. I love serving others, and I know it’s something Mom loved too. Whether it’s our yearly cancer care packages, or working for the American Cancer Society, and most recently in working with the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake. I also use my blog to talk about my personal battles and struggles to help others out there not feel alone. Nothing is too big or too small to be good.

Emotions aren’t a bad thing- it’s what makes us human. I woke up this morning so sad I almost was not sure I could make it through today. So I cried a little bit; it was impossible not to. Thankfully my son got me up. After making the kids breakfast I got ready and went to the gym where I ran until my lungs burned and I felt alive. Now that I am home we are preparing to go see my other son play in his basketball game, and then Aly and I will be finishing up the cancer packages.

The grief I feel is always there, but definitely is magnified today. But I choose to utilize it for good. Using this pain as a motivation to do good in the world and just be the best person I can be is what I aim to keep doing, one small step at a time.

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette