Let’s face it, holidays are hard.
Independence Day is coming quickly, and everyone I know is making plans to spend time with their families for the holiday weekend. I am reminded of all the holidays we spent with Ron in prison. When Ron first went to prison, I did not want to celebrate at all. Celebrating felt like I was leaving Ron behind – that I was minimizing the excruciating pain our family was experiencing. I believed we were not entitled to experience joy, fun, or celebrations.
The lies that were holding my sons and I hostage were:
- There is no room for joy or laughter in our lives.
- We have to wait until Ron is out of prison before we are allowed to smile or laugh.
The hollowness that took the place of my heart when Ron went to prison shut out every other feeling. So, numbness ruled and I wanted to stay that way. It was easier to get through the hours, the days, the weeks when I didn’t feel anything. I could manage to pretend that I was just fine, thank you very much, when I let the hollowness reign. But when my emotions began to seep into the hollowness, they began to take over; grief and pain replaced hollowness. How could I celebrate anything when my entire life was falling apart?
Not only did I not feel like celebrating, but what would people think or say if they saw me enjoying life with Ron locked up? I sensed an unspoken expectation from society that said I should be miserable and unhappy. And that was easy because that is how I felt.
Thankfully, I woke up early!
I began to realize that we only have one life, we don’t get do-overs, and we have the power to change things. I looked at my children’s faces and saw so much pain and anger. As I determined to do all I could do to change their lives—to fill them with the joy of being a child and the wonder that comes with seeing the world through a clear lens. I deliberately chose to allow laughter back into my life, my home, and my family. Part of that was just giving myself permission to go on living through the pain.
I remember the first 4th of July we celebrated after Ron’s incarceration.
He had been in prison for ten months (It felt like a lifetime!) I dug up all the change I could find and found that I had $14! I divided it up between my boys and took them down to the city park where all of the festivities were happening. They were thrilled! Carefully considering how they would spend their $7. As we walked through the park, filled with the sound of children laughing and calling out to each other, families bantering, and couples walking hand in hand, we enjoyed the smells of hot oil mixed with cinnamon and sugar, French fries, and the smoky barbecue that filled the air as we walked by vendors selling ribs, burgers, and brats. I suddenly felt so alone- the pain of missing Ron rose up and threatened to ruin this moment. As I looked down at my boys I reminded myself that I am NOT alone. I have sons. It is my job to create a life for them that will fill their hearts and minds with positive experiences to look back on.
We had a blast that day!
The boys spent their $7 on rides and games and we ate bologna sandwiches and drank Red Faygo pop while sitting in our car. Their faces beamed with delight and their laughter filled my heart with hope. As we sat on the ground watching fireworks that night, I definitely did NOT feel alone. I think I watched them watching the fireworks more than I looked at the bright explosions of color in the sky. They jumped and burst into laughter with every BOOM, their eyes lit up with the bright display in the sky and oohhh’ed and ahhhh’ed with pure awe.
Enjoying holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other important moments in life is hard when it feels like your life is falling apart or on hold. I know it is hard. When people say, “Do hard things,” I smile to myself and think, “You have no idea how well I know how to do hard things!” Learning to celebrate in the midst of the pain is imperative. You must learn to celebrate together in order to make it through the experience stronger and intact.
Learning to laugh together and build positive memories creates a foundation for a healthy, permanent family.
Here are some tips to get you started on your journey toward learning to celebrate:
- Give yourself permission to have fun.
- Be purposeful in celebrating. Make the whole day about celebrating the event/holiday and do not talk about or engage in things that pull you back into pain.
- Be in the moment. Life is full of distractions and our minds will wander if we let it. Focus on the event/activity at hand.
- Big doesn’t mean best. Doing small things can make a big difference. Wear colorful clothes or add food coloring to your meal. Simple things can totally change the atmosphere.
- Take pictures! Documenting life’s happy times is a great way to remind yourself how beautiful life is, and it also allows you the opportunity to share your experience with your loved one who cannot be there.
Now, go out there, keep your head up, smile big, laugh out loud, and celebrate!!
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