Before I started blogging, I hadn’t done much personal writing.  I’m a medical writer at work, so I’ve been working with words for decades.  But they weren’t for me.  They weren’t about me.  And they didn’t help me get beyond my share of those things that landed on my shoulders and my heart and pushed down.  Tried to drag me under.  Things that succeeded sometimes, I’m sorry to say.

For years I’d grieved.  I couldn’t get beyond the loss of much loved family members.  Until I wrote this post.  Now, I think and write my stories with more smiles and fewer tears.  Through the humor I found writing it, I got myself back.  And them, too.  It was a win-win.  By writing it, I was able to heal.

I had forgotten that really, the only thing as powerful as words is being able to laugh.  When I first posted Both Sides Now three years ago, my bloggin’ buddies didn’t quite know whether it was OK to laugh.  It is.  I did.  I do.

My long-time bloggin’ buddies may remember this post.  I’m posting it again mostly for myself and for my newer friends.

*     *     *

Both Sides Now

“The Season” makes me crabby.  Grumpy.  Irritable.  I’ve come to hate it.  Everything about it.  I hate the music, the crowded stores, the decorations.  I especially hate the decorations.

Last year a friend stopped by our house in the middle of December.  “God, it’s December 15th,” I said to her, “and the only decoration I have up is the wreath on the door!”

“I don’t think that counts, Lease,” responded my husband John. “You didn’t take that down from last year.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Tonight, I’m looking around at my undecorated house thinking, “uggggh,” not “Ho ho ho!”

It wasn’t always true, though.  I used to be one of them.  I was a veritable Christmas Elf.  I baked, I decorated.  I embroidered Christmas stockings for the whole family.  My son Jacob and I built gingerbread houses that did not come from a mix or a box and were actually made of gingerbread stuck together in the shape of a house!  My friends got a bottle of homemade Irish Cream liqueur.  Some used it to get their kids to bed on Christmas Eve.

But mostly, I sang.  The records, tapes and CDs came out on Thanksgiving.  From the moment I woke up the day after Thanksgiving, until New Years, I would trill away.  “White Christmas,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”  I belted “Mele Kalikimaka” when I had an established escape route to avoid people trying to punch me.  I know the words to all 18,423 verses of Frosty the Snowman.  I would start singing in the shower and keep going until John tackled me and put duct tape across my mouth, usually at about 8:30 a.m.  Regardless, I’d start up again the next morning.

If the current, Crabby Christmas Me got a hold of the old Merry Christmas Me, I would slap myself silly.

So you see, I do understand the Christmas-sy part of Christmas.  The love, the joy, the traditions.

But now I see the other side.  And it’s that “tradition” part that is to blame.

You see, my family’s always been fairly competitive.  My mother and her sister Ruth were particularly so.  They’d argue at each shared Sunday dinner over a million things:  whose gravy was better (my mother’s), who cracked the best one-liner (always Aunt Ruth – she was a hoot), and most traumatically for me, whose young daughter was taller. (Duh, Maureen was almost a year older than me – of course she won every time.  But you’re not taller now, are you?  And you’re still older, Maur.  You’re still older.  How do you like it??)  Darn, I wish I’d missed the competitive gene.

When I was a kid, Aunt Ruth was high on the list of my favorite relatives.  Now she’s tops on an altogether different list.  And it ain’t Santa’s list, neither.

Because Aunt Ruth started a family tradition.  A competition.  But it’s not a family tradition I recommend, especially during the Christmas season.  In fact, it should have a warning, although I’m not sure where you’d put it:  Don’t try this at home.

You see, Aunt Ruth started the tradition of kicking the bucket on a major holiday.  What fun!  Great idea!  Not many families do that!  Hey, we are DIFFERENT!

Knowing Aunt Ruth, I’m sure her last thought was “Doris, you’ll never top this one!  I’m dying on Thanksgiving!!!!”   She was no doubt a bit miffed when my mother joined her a couple of years later.

Because, not to be outdone, Mom arrived in the afterlife on Easter Sunday.

Their party really got going when we reached Y2K, and my sister Judy died unexpectedly on my birthday in January.  Now, you might argue that my birthday is not, technically speaking, a holiday.  Not a paid day off for most folks.  But hey, in my book, this qualifies.  So there.

As time went on, there were fewer and fewer holidays I could celebrate.  The only big one left was Christmas.

Guess what happened on Christmas, 2000!

Yup, Dad reclaimed his spot at the head of the table with Mom, Judy and Aunt Ruth. Dad trumped them all.  Or because it was Christmas, perhaps he trumpeted them all.  Maybe both.

I must say I am rather ticked off about it all.  Sort of changes the tone of the Holidays, you see.  I plan to have words with all four of them, next time I see them.  And I will not be nice.

In the meantime, celebrating holidays, well, it just seems so odd to me.  Especially Christmas, because Christmas is so stuff-oriented, and most of my Christmas stuff is from them.  It takes a bit of the fun out of decorating.

For a while, I considered joining the Eastern Orthodox Church.  That way I could celebrate the same holidays, just on different days.  I could keep all my Christmas crap!  I could decorate!  I could bake!  I could sing!  But then I realized that the change would just give us all additional high priority target dates, and I don’t have enough family members left to meet the challenge.  So Eastern Orthodox is out.

At the same time, I also realized that, when Dad hit the Holiday Lottery, the whole tradition had to stop.  Because I’m pretty sure that biting the dust on, say, Columbus Day, just wouldn’t cut it.  So why bother?

Nevertheless, this whole thing has made me decidedly anti-holiday.

There is one holiday I still look forward to, though.  Groundhog Day.  I just can’t figure out what sort of decorations to put up.

Photo courtesy of Google Images


Filed under Adult Traumas, Bat-shit crazy, Birthday, Bloggin' Buddies, Childhood Traumas, Christmas Stories, Dad, Family, Health and Medicine, History, Holidays, Huh?, Humor, Mental Health, Mom, Taking Care of Each Other, Writing

67 responses to “Healing

  1. We can collaborate on some Groundhogs Day Carols … like “Hark! Punxatawney Phil Saw His Shadow!” or “It Came Upon a Punxatawney Day” … “Groundhogs Roasting on an Open Fire” might be funny in a tacky kind of way …


  2. I remember this from the first time ’round. Hell, how could you forget it? You truly are blessed to have the sense of humour you do. It’s the thing that makes us able to look at this stuff and stay sane. Relatively, so to speak.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Julie

    Yep. We so share some common threads. Mine hit other ‘landmark’ days. My dad left us on 9/11/2007. (another casualty unrelated to the disaster, but hit much closer to home for me). My best friend, Labor day weekend 2003. My replacement best friend September 2013. (Wake me up when September ends might need to be my new theme song) My mom didn’t play right, as usual, she left 5/17/2004. What’s up with that? At least I know they are together. So I understand what you are talking about. At my brother’s home on Thanksgiving I fought tears when I went to the garage to smoke. In years past that was private time for me and dad at the family gathering. Now it is just me. I looked around the garage and talked to dad. Oh how I miss them. Gotta go now, my eyes are sweating.


    • Do people just want to make sure you remember them on the day they die? I mean, really now. September is such a lovely month. But then, so is that song ;/ . I guess it just means that there is no good time to lose people we love, that it will always be a time that sticks in our hearts and makes us think and remember.

      My sister Beth laughed at the fact that for years, I got nervous whenever anybody sniffled. She promised me faithfully that she would not die on a holiday. She promised she’d go on an ordinary Tuesday. And she did. And of course, I remember that day, too.



  4. meandcoffeefairy

    My wife birthday was Thanksgiving day this year, so it always near the other celebration, and she feels like her special day is lost and not so happy a day ever. She never really enjoyed the holidays period, the competition was the younger more favored sister growing up. Now the day before her birthday, her father, the man who been absent most her life passed away, and in less than one year of time, she has now lost her mother and the man she called her father plus now her real father. She is where you must have been at some point, I don’t have the gift to heal, and I only have laughter to help her forget for a moment the pain never far away. Thanks for reposting, think I needed a story of finding hope in the mist of turmoil, as my mama told me recently, keeping holding her hand till she ready to fly alone again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think only time has the gift to heal. And it took me 10 years to get where i could write this. But sometimes it feels like you’recin a war zone–you miss the ones you’ve loss and expect the losses to just keep coming.

      Be there, hold her as you said. But if it gets overwhelming, get her help. I lived too long with my sadness (which doesn’t change adamn thing or make anything better) after a while it feels like it’s swallowed your life too.

      Good luck. You sound like a good husband.


    • This was/is a great post. Maybe you can switch to celebrating Epiphany as they did in days of yore?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, you have quite a family tradition going. I understand your feelings about the holidays. I say do what you want on Christmas, whatever feels right. You’ve earned it.


  6. My father died on my brother’s birthday. We considered it a gift. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.


    • Yes, if someone is suffering, yes, it is a gift. Both of my parents were suffering, so yes. Especially my mom. It does make celebrations more challenging, though.

      My sister Judy, however, was 47. If that was a gift, I’d like to take it back.


  7. Ah Elyse… couldn’t properly figure out how to feel while reading that post… was jostled all over the place, from laughing to mouth-open incredulity… I wish I had the courage to write like this, or had found in my writing any means of exorcising the pain that’s often to be found in life. I don’t have such history of family tragedy, but there’s always something… I feel that I slip into the heads of other people and stories that aren’t real in order to evacuate myself to a place that’s apparently sane and stable… but seldom is. I have no idea where I’m going with this. Trying to explain something, I guess. Maybe just to me. But I thank you for the awesome in this post, the breadth and heart in it, the pain and the laughter. That is such a rare rare thing, especially done with such honesty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Trend. It took me over 10 years to get there. For a decade i would fear approaching holidays. Worry about who would kick it this time. It was particularly hard on my poor son, who was 9 when my dad aced the holiday death competition. But the weight nearly vanishedcwith the image of the competition. I can now get through the holidays. And since it is next to impossible to escape them in our world, well surviving them is the next best thing.


  8. I feel better once the house is decorated, but I do hate the shopping…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. … so much to say, that’s already been said, way more eloquently than I could ever do. Like ntexas 99 above.

    Save me a spot around the grumble hole, will ya?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Just this one post is more than enough to write a book around. It’s horribly grim, ridiculously ironic, and tinged with just enough mirth to keep it from truly tilting too close to macabre. I can’t even imagine what it had to have been like the first time, and then, the hits keep coming. But Thanksgiving, Easter, your birthday, AND Christmas? Incongruously unfair, but still very unique? Too much, really. Too much.

    I’m a bit of a bah-humbugger for entirely different reasons. Maybe we can sit around the absent spot where the Christmas tree should go and grumble quietly together. Swapping stories. You already win. Hands down. *shaking head*

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve started two replies to your comment, 99. My iPad froze both times and then I wasn’t able to get them back. Technology is apparently teaming up with my relatives to screw with my head!

      It actually took me a long time to see the pattern here. I wasn’t terribly close to Aunt Ruth as an adult, so her passing wasn’t difficult. Mom’s was, but it was years later. It wasn’t until I wrote this piece, as I thought about how much I didn’t want it to be December that I envisioned the four of them around our kitchen table in Connecticut, and this post was born. That year, for the first time since 2000, I was able to decorate a Christmas tree without sobbing (a particular favorite of my son who during the intervening years went from 9-20). 70 percent of our ornaments were gifts from dead folks and it was heart wrenching. Now I just see them sitting there, and plan exactly what I will say to them! This post really saved me, and showed me the power of words, humor and imagination better than anything I’ve ever written.


      • Even though, in theory, we know in our gut that humor is often our saving grace, it can take us a while to have enough distance to appropriately apply the humor to such situations. I’m just glad to learn that you are able to enjoy the holidays again, in any capacity. Although, honestly, the sprinkling snow while I’m writing this comment is rather annoying. Just teasing you … the falling snow is a cute touch. Bah humbug or not, there’s no denying that it ’tis the season. Ho Ho Ho, humbug 🙂


  11. I say wrap it all up for either Halloween or Mardi Gras. Both very good holidays, great decorations, very cool in fact.

    Love this.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for re-running this one – I wasn’t a follower the first time around. I, too, am not crazy about this time of year. My birthday is in January also and I’d just as soon miss that month too. I’m not a bah humbug, I just don’t like the craziness and stress.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’d be mighty careful on Valentine’s Day, Elyse. Just sayin’.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. PsiFiGal

    You had me laughing and then feeling guilty for laughing and then laughing again…. Our family had a bad run of deaths, bam bam bam! We all told each other “OK, no one dies for at least 5 years.” I’m not sure if we made it to 5 years or not but we have had more losses. I think I would have liked your aunt Ruth. I find myself getting bah humbug-y more and more, but then I look at my grand-neices and nephews faces and *poof* Scrooge is gone 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • These things do tend to group together, don’t they? Which makes it much harder and more overwhelming.

      Aunt Ruth was a difficult character. Huge heart, very quick witted. But she grew up poor in the Depression, and left school after grammar school to earn money for the family. That enabled my mother to finish high school and break the family mold of factory work. My mom was devoted. To her; the rest of us went between loving and hating her. She was very opinionated and ignorant but funny as hell. Quite a character! And then, of course she started this whole competition!


  15. I remember this post from before. It’s a great one. Yeah, decorations for Groundhog Day are tough. I suppose decorating the house with stuffed groundhogs would be a bit weird…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Paul

    That’s a neat post Elyse. Thanks for sharing.


  17. Elyse – so well done and belongs on your wonderful blog every holiday season.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I hear ya! My birthday is in January. My Dad died right before it and my Mom right after it (in different years). If that weren’t enough, my ex decided to go live with his girlfriend in January too. Anyone else dying in January will have to answer to me. I hate January.


  19. I lost my grandfather the year of my 18th, my 21st was saddened due to my mother in law to be being diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the day after my 40th, I lost my Dad.
    For the latter, I took my cake into the ICU and shared it with the staff, so although my birthday was ‘different’, it wasn’t a bad day my dad was still with us.
    On the other side, on Christmas Day last year my great niece gave birth to a son, giving us five living generations.


    • Wow. Life is complicated, isn’t it. I like the idea of the cake in the ICU. ICU nurses as I’ve found through my own ill health and that of various family members, are amazing. My late sister Beth (who did not make this story because she promised to, and did, die on an ordinary Tuesday) was a neonatal ICU nurse. Amazing work those folks do.

      Five generations is wonderful — life affirming!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. lifespaller

    Holidays can be a challenge, but your family really threw the gauntlet down to you. It’s really really sad! Having said that, I’m also laughing at their special talent (I’m Australian, so forgive my lack of decorum and sensitivity). You could sell this story to Hollywood. Mind you, on current trends, the producers would probably write in a vampire somewhere. And Bill Murray.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Let’s see. German casualties on D-Day were around 1,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. No, nothing bad happened on D-Day.


  22. I hate to ruin Groundhog Day for you, but did you know that the groundhog that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio accidentally dropped on Groundhog Day died of internal injuries? A groundhog on Groundhog Day! Sigh.

    (Sorry, I guess this comment wasn’t exactly following your suggestion to “play nice.”)


  23. This is a great post! 🙂


Play nice, please.

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