Traditions of Grief

This October, Friday the 28th was flagged on my calendar. It was the start of the Hallmark Channel’s non-stop broadcast of its traditional, formulaic holiday movies. Beginning in 2010, the network launched its Countdown to Christmas event, hosting the 24-7 movie festival through January 1.

I’m not alone in my love for the often cheesy, always happy-ending movies. In fact, it’s the network’s most lucrative, highest rated time of year. But if you asked us all why we love it, it’s more than just the movies.

Some of it may be Janice Radway-style escapism, and I’m good with that. For me, it sets the mood. Much like the “fireplace channel” adding background noise and ambiance, the non-stop holiday showcase of sweaters and fake snow and cute hats and hot chocolate in Christmas mugs and endless cookie-baking battles and a Santa for every scene is the perfect ambiance for kicking of the holiday season.

Despite complaints that the holiday emerges too quickly, no one seems upset that it ends too soon.

I want it to last longer and the only way to do that is to start earlier. I want Christmas because it’s one of the most important times of the year for me to remember my parents.

I lost my mom in my fifth year of college, at 22. I lost my dad about nine years later. Arguably, too young in each case. Neither of my parents got to meet my husband, or my dogs. Or see me buy a home, get a new job, move to Milwaukee.

My parents on their wedding day in 1960.

But, both did years and years of Christmas tradition with me. From how we wrap gifts (curling ribbon for the win!) to the menu, my mom and dad are so intrinsically wrapped into my holiday traditions that I cannot wait to begin them. It’s as though my parents are visiting for 8 weeks.

Many say the holidays are the saddest time for folks who are dealing with grief, and though I can understand that, for me, the opposite is true. I’m the happiest then because I’m awash with all the best memories of holidays past.

In every cookie I bake, every loaf of bread dough I beat back into the bowl I am physically engaging with what my parents taught me and how we celebrated together. It is at once cathartic, purifying, physical, visceral and joyful.

It’s a memory, wrapped in an action, covered in tradition and I cannot wait for next holiday season to begin.

The annual tree photograph, a tradition my dad insisted on. I also turn to my husband and say “Good tree this year,” just as my parents told us after every ornament was hung.

I will start my Countdown To Christmas in late October with Hallmark because it means I get to dive deep into memories and grief. I get to swim in it while drinking cocoa and singing carols. I can bathe in the love I remember and the jokes, the laughter of my childhood home. I can call on it by donning Santa socks and red and white slippers. I can burrow under a blanket and watch a cookie making competition and talk to my mom, laughing that they don’t have what it takes.

And I’ve built this new tradition, too. It’s hunting season when the movie extravaganza starts, so Andy is gone every weekend. I get to enjoy the movies privately and have my memory sessions, building up joy, partitioning the grief and priming myself for his return, when we do our own holiday gatherings. There’s a pub crawl, a bike event, a Festivus party, a fondue night and more. They’re new. And I’m ready for them because I’ve spent many a cheesy afternoon reveling in the old.

The lesson here is optimism.

Instead of being saddened by the holidays and the reminder of great losses and absences in my life, the holidays trigger the best memories. I look forward to that permission.

I see the movie kickoff as the door opening to weeks and weeks of remembering all the best of what’s no longer here. I see each event–from cookie baking to gift wrapping to choosing a holiday outfit–as the physical embodiment of memory and it’s the best therapy one could ask for.

My parents are alive and well at the holidays and that’s why they can never start too early.

celebration family Grief television

maryt1 View All →

Feminist, activist, outdoor advocate, animal lover, chocolate shake lover, reader, watcher, talker, actor, speaker, worker, writer, urban adventurer, hustler, involved, passionate, excited, ready.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. Really? Happy with that tree? Mom would be so disappointed. No tinsel. Not just NO tinsel, but no tinsel laid down one strand at a time (no grabbing handfuls and just tossing it on after hours of boredom) until the tree is fully shiny with the Christmas lights reflecting off of it. Tinsel covered with powdered sugar from eating chocolate crinkles and toffee and divinity if it wasn’t too humid.
    Well done, sis. Had to go an make this Scrooge actually have a heartwarming moment…..

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