Ah, Christmas and grief. They go together like raw eggs and rum.
Hello, my friends.
I’m typing to you with sweat-slicked palms. I have this idea about dark feelings during the holidays. This idea wants out. It’s chittering like a pissed-off chipmunk and giving me a headache.
Critter is here – my faithful friend, straight-talking muse, and imaginary raccoon. She just shook her head at me and yawned. Apparently, mouthy nut-hoarding tree-dwellers don’t impress her.
So this idea keeps buzzing in my skull. I can’t spit it out. It’s been there for two weeks.
My jaws are locked tight by an exaggerated nervousness about Things I Might Regret. It’s getting rather constipated in here.
This giant feeling of foreboding has been standing in front of my expressive outlet, looking like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It is crossing its tree-trunk arms and giving me a cocky grin that says, “Good luck with that.”
This smug censor is an agent of Doubt, and is the biggest pain in the ass on my internal executive committee. When I get threatening ideas, Doubt’s henchman cracks thick knuckles tattooed with his motto: Don’t Write Checks You Can’t Cash. Or Else.
Well, the chipmunk isn’t having any of that. He has started stomping his tiny feet and waving his paws, and just squeaked something like, “This nut needs to be cracked!” Or, it might have been, “You’re gonna get smacked.” I don’t know; I don’t speak chip-squeak.
Anyway, these two lunatics started a brawl in the backroom of my mind. The stale grey air filled with echoing screams and hunks of fur that fell like snow. Flying chairs and tables dinged the walls.
At the height of the melee, I left the building. I propped the back door open with a dustpan, and squatted against cold, gritty brick in the back alley. I laid my head in my hands. I breathed hard and listened to the wheezy in-out huffs, trying to get grounded and figure out what to do.
On one hand, I know I am in a messy place. I’m so far behind on my obligations and so run down on my reserves that making another promise right now seems like masochism.
But on the other hand, I think that maybe Mr. Chubbycheeks is right; maybe this nut DOES needs cracking.
I tossed this question back and forth for awhile, like an exhausting game of one-man badminton.
All of a sudden, an impatient, “Ahem,” broke my thoughts. I looked up, and there was Critter. Her arms were crossed like captain beefcake, but her message was totally different. Instead of sporting a menacing grin, she was rolling her eyes.
“Are you done?” she finally asked.
“Done what?” I asked back.
“This!” she said, waving her paws around the alley. “And that,” she added, cocking a thumb toward the door; “Your drama made one hell of a mess.”
“That wasn’t me!” I protested, “Those guys are nuts! I came out here to get away from it.”
Critter gave me the “bullshit alert” eyebrow. I closed my eyes and rubbed my palm on my forehead.
“God. Okay. Fine,” I grumbled. “The drama is me. The chipmunk is me, the meathead is me…”
“And the lily-livered whiner cowering behind the dumpster right now is DEFINITELY you,” Critter finished for me. Helpful, as always.
“Fuck off, Critter.” I said. But she didn’t flinch. Instead, she came closer, and laid a paw on my thigh.
She waited until I looked at to her and said gently, “Just do it.”
I looked at her. I didn’t know what to say. My heart pounded in my ears. My breath scraped in my chest.
I couldn’t even make words for my excuses.
Critter waited patiently, breathing with me. We stared at each other, and I started to get lost in the soothing neither-nor-ness of her brown-grey coat, and her yellow-green eyes.
For a moment, I forgot what we were talking about. My face relaxed. Critter saw the shift, and her ears perked up.
I picked up her wordless expectation, and sighed.
“Alright,” I said. “Fine. I’m doing it.”
Critter smiled and patted my leg.
“Atta girl,” she said.
“What if I can’t keep it up, though, Critter?” I asked, “What good will it do if I get started and can’t follow it through?”
“We might as well find out,” she answered. “It’s not like this holding back has helped anyone, or preserved your inner peace.”
I snorted. No kidding.
Alright. So… here we go.
I have this idea, and I’m just going to say it:
I’m going to run a campaign, starting today. It’s called 12 Days of Griefmas, and it’s for everyone whose heart breaks over and over again, every single Christmas.
I know there are a lot of us; the sad truth about the Christmas season is that it is kind of a magnet for grief.
The story is in the numbers; rates of illness, death, divorce, suicide, and self-harm spike in the dark of December. I think part of the problem is the crushing reality that the perfect Christmas dream we sell to each other isn’t real. It cannot exist in our brains, bodies, and families.
We push ourselves to the brink physically, emotionally, and financially, trying to produce the holidays we think our families need from us. And instead of drawing comfort from each others’ warm bodies at this time of year, we beat ourselves up and lament our loved ones’ failures. We drown our disappointment in food, drink, overwork, and meanness. We push ourselves further and further away from the connection we crave.
And all this is happening in a season when we’re low, anyway. The short, dark, shivery days and merry-go-round of snot-spewing contagion make winter a necessarily hard time. No wonder so many species migrate and hibernate to avoid it.
Since we can’t avoid it, and so many of us are sitting here feeling shitty anyway, I thought I’d light us a fire.
I’m going to pop on here every day between now and Boxing Day to keep the flames stoked with whatever tinder I can find: tips, songs, jokes, games, stories… who knows. I haven’t completely thought this through. I haven’t even counted the days… I think it might be more than twelve. Whatever. That’s not important.
What matters to me is reaching out to you, and clearing a place in the dark forest where we are wandering so we can come together.
I hope you can join me, and I hope it helps you get through this long night.
If you like this idea, go ahead and share this post. You all know I’m not shy about broadcasting my brokenness. Maybe it will find someone who needs it, and help them feel less alone.
Whatever it is you really need, I encourage you to find it. Sniff that shit out, gather it up, and line your nest with the things that express and soothe your ache.
And have yourself a grievy little Christmas. Let your heart be embraced by the dark critters all around you, and the love that comes from relating.