Surviving sadness at Christmas
by Kathie Costos
Wounded Times Blog
December 20, 2012
When Christmas comes the images we see are of happy families, gathering together to open gifts and eat huge meals. We see them going shopping, wrapping gifts, writing out addresses on cards to people to let them know they are thinking of them in this season of "love" and all is right with the world. If you think that is what Christmas is then you won't want to read anymore of this. For too many families, Christmas is not a happy time.
Fifty years ago, I went to see Santa just like every other kid in America. I was thinking about toys because that was what my Mom told me he gave. I didn't ask him for the miracle my family needed. I don't remember what I asked him for, but I bet I asked him for a baby doll since that is what is sitting next to me in the next picture. It was 1962.
This is what Christmas looked like for me and my two brothers. My oldest brother Nick is sitting on the sofa and Warren is on the floor with me. If you think we didn't look too happy, we weren't. Our family was not what most families were but at age of 3 I didn't know that. To me, it was the only "normal" I knew.
We didn't have much money but my Mom did the best she could to buy us what we wanted, what she thought would make us happy even if it was just for a little while. She knew our lives were hard. My Dad was an angry alcoholic at that time. I didn't know other Dads were not like that until I got older and had more friends.
Nick was sweet and smart. He was my hero. He was always there, watching over me. Considering I was always getting into some kind of trouble, he had his hands full. I kept wondering who would be watching over him when I could hear him crying in our room. Three of us had to share the bedroom since we didn't have enough money to buy a house. We lived in an apartment in my uncle's house.
I thought if we had enough money, then we'd be happy and my Dad wouldn't be so mad all the time. I was wrong. By the time my parents bought their first house, my Dad had become violent. He beat my brother Nick most of the time and broke things around the house when he got an argument with my Mom. By then I knew that the way we lived was far from "normal" and I wanted what everyone else had.
In the summer of 1963 my family went to a drive-in movie. One of the things we did together that was a happy time. My Mom made bags of popcorn and we put on our pajamas, piled into the station wagon with our pillows and had our adventure.
When my Mom went to buy sodas, my Dad stayed in the car and my brothers took me to the play ground areas. I wasn't allowed to go into the big kids area by myself. One night, I got away from them, headed to the huge slide, climbed to the top and suddenly I realized it was terrifying without my brother Nick. I froze at the top, clinging to the hand rails. The kid behind me was yelling at me to go, but I couldn't. He pushed me hard on my right side and I went over the left side of the slide. I fell head first onto the concrete. Nick found me laying on the ground and thought I was dead.
Long story short, after the hospital stay, my scull was cracked and I had what we now know as traumatic brain injury. I couldn't talk right anymore but no one connected the changes I went through to the accident.
Things at home were better for a long time. My Dad wasn't drinking much and I wasn't waking up in the middle of the night crying because of the fights. Then it all started again. By Christmas, I wanted peace back so I bashed my head against the wall over and over to try and crack it again thinking my Dad would stop hating and start loving again.
Growing up I looked like everyone else but did not live like everyone else. My Dad stopped drinking when I was 13. He never drank after that. He had a lot of heart attacks and strokes but said he wasn't going to put his family through that again. He passed away at 58. My brother Warren died in his 40's, Nick died at 56 and my Mom passed away at 85.
I've had some years when there was plenty of money to buy gifts and send boxes of Christmas cards out just as I've had years when there was not enough money to pay bills. When most people went to the malls and checked sales, I avoided them.
If you are having a hard time this Christmas, know you are not alone. Here is some advice for surviving sadness at Christmas.
First remember that just because we celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, it is not the day he was born and it is not the day the wise men showed up with gifts. Joseph and Mary didn't buy Jesus gifts. They gave Him love. He was born into poverty and spent His three years preaching living as a homeless man depending on the kindness of strangers while giving gifts far beyond the tangible. He gave healing, hope and compassion that lasted well beyond a day. He didn't celebrate Christmas but He did celebrate life even though He knew how His life would end and when.
Some want to pretend that the way Christ was crucified was not the way His time on earth was supposed to end. They are missing the real powerful reality of He knew exactly how much He was going to suffer and exactly how many people would turn against Him but he still healed the sick, made the blind see, preached about loving and compassion even though He knew none of that would be there for Him in the end. John was the only friend staying by His side when the rest abandoned Him. His last words were about forgiving.
Christmas shouldn't be about buying gifts or regretting we don't have any to give. It should be about what true love is and what we give that cannot be bought, broken or worn out. It is about giving real love.
There was a time when I thought people really cared about me when my mailbox was full of cards and people showing they were thinking of me. Much like growing up was different than how it seemed, so were these empty thoughts. When I sent out a lot of cards, I got a lot back. The last few years have been financially hard and there hasn't been extra money for cards or stamps. This year I received a total of 5 cards. That made me stop and think about how foolish I had been thinking the world would fall apart if I didn't buy stuff for other people.
They don't care any more or less of me than they would otherwise. Most of the people I know don't really know me, what I do, how I feel, what I need or what I want out of life any more than I know them. Just as it was when I was a kid, normal for one family is not normal for others. Stop thinking that this one day means more than any other day.
Christ should live in our hearts, our deeds, our giving what we have to those in need in great and small ways as long as it is done with love. When you give anything, expect nothing back other than the feeling you get inside doing it. Don't think that you will matter more or less to the people in your life who do really care about you. If you have pain, share it because someone out there will know exactly what you're talking about and feeling just as alone as you do while no one else will understand. Let them know you do understand and give them a gift that will help the rest of their lives.
My gift to you is forgiveness. You didn't deserve to be treated the way you were in your life anymore than I did as a child. You are not responsible for what other people do anymore than I was. Let go of what happened in your own lives by making peace with it and forgive people who harmed you as well as yourself. You are not just some name in an address book that gets pulled out once a year with a check box indicating you sent them a card last year. The people in your life are in your life everyday. The friends you have were strangers at one time, so if you ran out of friends, there is a stranger today that can be your friend tomorrow. What you think is "normal" for everyone else is not really what it seems so stop thinking everyone else is happy, surrounded by love and an abundance of all they want.
I looked like every other kid 50 years ago and asked Santa for what all girls my age asked for but I needed a lot more than he could deliver. What I got sustained me through every heartache and hardship. I got hope that tomorrow will be better than this day and if not, then yesterday didn't destroy me. I survived it then and can do it again today. So can you.