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Winter Holidays: Are You Hiding Your Misery Behind A Mask?

Updated on November 22, 2014

The holiday season is upon us. Look carefully at those around you. Can you tell which ones are really happy and who is wearing a mask? You can if you try.

For most of my life, I was the proverbial little kid during the holiday season. I loved the excitement of shopping for those perfect gifts, the sounds of the bells and Ho-ho-ho’s from the mall Santa Claus. The aroma of hot spiced cider on the stove and a live pine in the house are memories that take me back to wonderfully happy memories of my childhood. The holidays were wonderful back then.

Traditions Change, Fires Happen, Alcohol Consumes

Like most my age, I’ve also had years when the holidays were a little less wonderful. Lean financial times made it impossible to give as much as the heart would like to. My brother and I grew up, had families of our own, and traditions changed as we shared or divided our time between biological families and in-laws. One year I lost my home to fire and started over with nothing. The holidays weren’t so wonderful that year.

There were times (years really) when alcohol disrupted the joy of the season. We had our usual fights over the tree, decorating, and what to buy, how much money to spend, and yes, sometimes there were arguments over nothing at all. I was married to an alcoholic and if there is one thing you can count on it is that you can’t count on an alcoholic during the holidays. He was a good man, but over time, alcohol consumed his life, and ultimately, mine. Until you have lived with substance abuse, you cannot understand why a spouse must tiptoe through the holidays, trying not to do anything to cause a fight. That fight will ruin your holiday and that of your extended family too. Alcohol successfully destroyed many of our holidays and eventually, our marriage too. But, I survived and became stronger.

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New Beginnings

Single again, I began to create new traditions that were not attached to those painful memories. I put on the mask of holiday cheer and pretended to find joy in the holiday season again. It wasn’t easy but I made myself decorate the house. I started small and put up the smallest tree I could find. Then, I baked sweet treats to give away. I was obsessed. Christmas cards were sent to everyone I knew or had ever known. I made myself participate in the season again. After a while, I didn't need the mask anymore. Life with my new traditions was good.

But something nagged at me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the holidays were still sad and lonely for a lot of others. I began thinking about those who, just as I had done, were still wearing a mask during the holidays. I knew they were out there, suffering silently behind the mask of the holiday cheer. Life was not so wonderful for a lot of folks but a stroll through the mall could fool one into thinking the world was a happy place. I began listening to what wasn’t being said. I heard the young woman in front of me at the return counter as she concluded her transaction and offered an empty “Merry Christmas” to the clerk. The sadness in her face defied her message, if you took the time to look.

In the grocery store, I listened as the young couple argued over how much money they had to spend to feed both of their parents a Christmas meal. They barely had enough money to feed their children and now, they were threatening divorce over the price of a meal they couldn’t afford.

In my office, I listened as a co-worker whispered into the telephone that she wished she could just go away until the holiday was over. I heard the pain in her voice as she wondered how she could make it through the season without the son that had walked out of her life in a moment of paranoid schizophrenia and never returned.

Holidays Are Not Exempt From Loss and Grief

As the holidays drew closer, I began to notice the growing number of obituaries in the newspaper. Why does it seem that more people die during the holidays than on regular days? I had learned earlier in my healthcare career to prepare for the children who would die from cancer during the holidays. It happened every year and even though I expected it, it was still sad, horribly sad. As I held the hands of the parents, I wondered, how do they get through the holidays when they have just lost a child? Eventually I came to understand that when you are told that your child has cancer, suffering through a few days called “holiday” is nothing.

The older I got, the more I realized that the holidays are not happy times for everyone. I have not become desensitized to the sadness. It is part of being an empath and I have learned to cope with it. Thank God for the ability to feel but not let it suck the life out of me. In fact, I am grateful for the awareness and hope that I never stop caring about people. I hope I am never so detached that I don't feel their pain and recognize their emotions.

Time and Love Heals

I am a student of life; a student who strives to be present in the moment and a student who wants to experience all the emotions of living, both the good and the bad. I want to be sensitive to the pain of others and still celebrate the joy of living. It took a while, but I’ve learned to cry without shame for the child waiting to be adopted and to share a hug with the soldier’s wife wondering if he’ll make it home. I don’t have to like it that the young girl won’t leave the husband that beats her but I have learned to accept that it’s her choice as long as she knows there are other options. My heart has been broken by a crack addict but I can’t let it stop me from trying to help another. Isn’t that what it means to be human? Aren’t we supposed to have compassion and understanding, patience and tolerance? Aren’t we supposed to love each other and offer a hug or a hand up when life seems almost unbearable?

This is the season, the holiday season for people of many traditions and religions. Our celebrations are as individual and unique as we are. While some have so much to celebrate, some will still wear the masks of bravery, determined to survive the holiday season. They may be missing someone, worrying about something, or fighting to live. Watch for them. Remember them in your prayers and in your day-to-day activities. Your kindness may be the force that helps them move through the darkness to face another holiday season with joy. Time and love heals all.

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  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Shauna, you are my sistah forever. The woods sound betterto me than that witche's tower. Merry Christmas to you too girlfriend. I hope it's your best ever.

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    Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

    Linda, your heartfelt message for Christmas and every day is something all humans must hear, feel and heed.

    Your choice of video for this hub is awesome. When I first saw "The Christmas Shoes" I hoped my son loves me as much as that precious little boy loved his young, beautiful mother.

    We have so much to learn, but we can't learn until we know how to feel.

    Merry Christmas my friend. Forget the witch's tower. We'll meet in the woods enveloped by the light of the moon and stars and follow the North Star to the Manger.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    What a story shiningirisheyes. See how little it takes sometimes to make a difference. I have to admit the holidays are a bit melancholy for me too. I used to love them but not anymore. When I wrote this, I was wondering how many others felt the same. I think it is really eye opening to find out how many people are really sad (for good reasons) during the holiday. Thank you for opening up and sharing your feelings.

  • shiningirisheyes profile image

    Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

    I thank you for writing this. As someone wearing that perpetual mask, I have refrained from commenting on Hub pages as to how the holidays really make me feel. They are a crippling emotional time. It is hard when everyone is planning their Thanksgiving meals, running around in a state of bliss trying to get every present on the list.

    Although I do reflect on those who have it worse than I, I sometimes feel no one allows for those of us who have a Thanksgiving and Christmas as just another day of the week. I remember the years when these holidays were filled with merriment, places to go, family members still of the living.

    I stood in line the other day to purchase dog food. A lady walked up to the guy in front of me and gave him a hug. From the conversation, I surmised this was his sister and she was encouraging him to stop by for Christmas. After she left he said that he had such a large family, he always found it a chore to include everyone. I spoke up and kindly told him to go and visit his sister and be thankful he had family to spend it with. He left the store only to return, shake my hand and wish me a "Merry Christmas".

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello Angela! I hope you've had a great weekend. Thank you for the delightful comment. It is so easy to get caught up in the holiday madness but you are absolutely right, a phone call or a card might mean a world of difference to someone who is a little sad or lonely. I think the simple things often mean the most. You are a blessing and I wish you the best of the holiday season.

  • Angela Blair profile image

    Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

    What a beautiful and vastly important Hub. It's so easy during the holiday season to concentrate on what "I" have to do or what "we" have to do -- and we forego being aware of the need that surrounds us (most especially during the holidays). This lovely Hub reminded me of so many folks that could possibly benefit from a bit of attention from me during this Christmas season -- even if just a card or a telephone call -- and I'll follow through on that -- thanks to you! Best/Sis

  • Amy Becherer profile image

    Amy Becherer 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    You brought tears to my eyes, sweet Linda. You and I are on the same path, starting over, finding new aspects of interest that broaden our horizons, open our eyes and our hearts. I love living alone. I am not lonely. Ironically, my life feels unlimited now, as I am no longer stifled by another's conflicting, insistent demands. The possibilities are endless and life, the good and bad, are enlightening and exciting. Without this experience, which has not been easy, I would have left this earth never knowing who I was, what was important to me or making a difference in my own way. You and your beautiful heart shine like a beacon, Linda, and you restore my faith in humanity with everything you write.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Amy, you couldn't write anything negative if you tried. Your soul is so full of light and love. It just exudes from your core. I thank you graciously for all the compliments. I will walk a little taller today with more spring in my step and, I will see the world as a lovelier place, because of you.

    Yes, I started over like so many others. I have a stubborn streak Amy and I refuse to go down without a darn good fight. I am genuinely happy inside; sad sometimes for the world we live in but content within my own being. I think that when you learn to be alone with yourself, when your happiness no longer depends on being "with" someone else, it allows you to see things in a different light. My life is a journey of self-discovery and while I'm doing that, I want to make a difference, in some small way. It's really pretty simple. That desire is what brought me to HP and I have been blessed many times over for being here and you, my friend, are becoming the light on top of my tree. I absolutely love reading anything you write (even a comment) because it is like walking through an art gallery of all your favorite works. Merry Christmas to you too sweet lady.

  • Amy Becherer profile image

    Amy Becherer 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    I love your poetic soul, Linda. Your kindness, empathy and compassion knows no bounds and you make this world a perpetual Christmas in the truest spirit. I sometimes wonder if the number of deaths during the holidays are really higher or is it our fairytale expectations that pain and loss stop during shopping season. The "magic" of Christmas is still seem through our innocent eyes and it is a rude awakening to find that children still go hungry and cold, animal abuse goes on and our elderly are still mistreated and neglected in nursing homes...despite the santas in the malls, who many are alcoholics making a few bucks.

    I love the fact that you not only started over, defeating the holiday blues to move beyond your own Christmas celebrations to see that there are others who are suffering. You make a huge difference in the world, Linda, and I am honored to have crossed paths with you. This piece, speaks to me personally, and rings a louder chord than any Christmas carol. Your poetic words light me up brighter than the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree. Merry Christmas, Linda.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    MH - thank you. The blessings in my life are too numerous to count but I am wishing you and Arlene the best the season has to offer too.

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

    I am so glad you made a path to welcome a special season back into your life. Plus! you made the time to share your journey with others. May you be blessed by the richness of the season.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Bill, you know how to make my day. I worried about this one; that it would be perceived as a dampening force on everyone else's celebration. But there is a balance and we can find it, that place between joy and compassion. Can't we? You know the answer as well as I do because you have found it too. Thank you for the support and the inspiration you always give me. Together, kindred spirits, forever, one day, one person at a time.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Faith, I am keeping you and your family close in prayer and thought. You are so dear to all of us here and you have not let lifes challenges make you bitter. You turn it all into love and then give it away so easily. Blessings to you my friend. I am believing in good news for you this week.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    You are, indeed, a student of life, and a damn fine one. Excellent look into the psyches all around us, and so very compassionate. I love your outlook on life, and the way you find understanding for those around you. Beautiful work my kindred spirit. :)

    bill

  • Faith Reaper profile image

    Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

    God bless you Linda for writing this piece. I do remember those lean years also involving alcohol, as my dad was an alcoholic and suffered with PTSD after the wars in which he fought. Thankfully, time and love really do heal. This Christmas is a little sad for me, as my mother has been so sick, but slowly getting stronger each day, and next week I get to go ahead with a CT scan as far as knowing for sure if the blood clots in my lungs are absorbed or not, so if my mother is well by Christmas and I no longer have to take blood thinner for blood clots, those will be the best Christmas presents ever, and I shall be so thankful for just those two things. However, I am very blessed and grateful for everything in my life and with having the grands around at Christmas, makes it special too.

    Let us keep all in prayer, as you have well stated here, as a lot will not have any joy at all during this Christmas time due to whatever, i.e., but as long as we have love in our hearts for others, that is the best gift of all time.

    Voted up+++ and sharing

    In His Love, Faith Reaper

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Joseph, what a beautiful comment. Melancholic reckoning...that says it all. Thank you!

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Jackie, you said it! The problems don't end. There are people everywhere right now, in every color, creed, and circumstance, that are barely surviving. Alone or lonely, it is a difficult time of year for so many. I do believe though that reaching out fills our own hearts with love and goodwill. Thank you for echoing my thoughts.

  • Lord De Cross profile image

    Joseph De Cross 4 years ago

    Is the awaited time of the year, where so many things end, and more other things start. Melancholic reckoning of better days mixed with new feelings among new experiences. Your words transcend the message and make us ponder about these 3 upcoming weeks ahead of us. Thanks so much Linda!

  • Jackie Lynnley profile image

    Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

    You said it, problems don't disappear just because it is a holiday and it may be worse because no one wants to be the party pooper and has to put on a front which make the hurt feelings even worse. It is a sad time too remembering all the ones not still around. You are right though, we will live through it, and maybe enjoy a little.