Sunday, December 21, 2014

Complex Christmas and An Inspiring Story

Jayci at her grandfather's grave. Source
This morning I was watching the news and saw a feature about a young girl - 14 years old - who is working hard to achieve a very special Christmas goal. Her wish, is to put a wreath on every single grave at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery here in San Antonio, TX. To date, there are over 144,000 graves of fallen soldiers buried here. To say it is a big goal is an understatement. They have yet to reach that goal in a single year, but she is relentless. Partnered now with Wreaths Across America, she does 15 or 20 speaking engagements and fund raisers around the San Antonio, TX area in the fall to help raise money and bring in volunteers for this massive effort. The focus and resolve are nothing short of incredible to watch - particularly in someone so young.

I could not help but be completely inspired by the boldness and determination of her spirit. It allowed me to put my own pain aside for a moment and think about just how many ways on any given day there are to do something to remember or appreciate those who have died - whether as soldiers or otherwise.

It is one of those things that my fiance's death has changed in me for the better. Now I know first-hand what it means to the loved ones of the fallen for them to be remembered. My fiancé was not in the military - though he wanted nothing more than to do so, a back injury prevented him from being allowed to enlist. Regardless of that, I still know what it feels like when someone does something to show me they remember him - like leaving something at his grave, or sharing a memory, or donating in his honor. It means more than words can describe. You all get that.

I've been stuck in my own pain this past week - stuck thinking about how I'm sick of Christmas and ready for all this holiday mess to be over with. Year three without him is no better. Less scary for sure, less traumatic, but still I am able to muster only apathy for the entire affair. Even though I will be deeply happy to spend Christmas with his family - whom is now very much my own family - all the time leading up to that day is just an assault on the emotions. People talking about nothing but how behind they are on getting presents for everyone… when all you're thinking as you hear them is how lucky they are to still have all of their people in tact to give presents to.

I hate this. I want to be able to enjoy the season. I want to be able to just enjoy things the way other people do again. I want a simple holiday season where all I'm worried about is getting the Christmas shopping done and making sure food is cooked. But it is so far from my reality - Complex Christmas.

That's is why I am so glad I caught this feature on tv this morning though. This story about the wreaths got me out of my own pain and woke me up to the possibility that - if I pay attention and look for it - there are ways that I could use the holiday season to help me find meaning. If I make USE of Christmas as a way to connect to other folks who are enduring a complex Christmas - whether due to death, illness, financial strains, etc - maybe I could reclaim a bit of the good in this season. Maybe I could actually be able to find more than apathy in this time of year again.

There are all kinds of ways to do this… and even though it won't bring him back or make Christmas simple like it used to be, it would feel good, and make others feel good who might really need it too. That part of it I can get behind. I know that's not rocket science, but I think you get it. We get stuck in our heads so easily in the midst of grief and trauma. We have blinders on much of the time. And it can be hard see anything that can help it.

Today, I'm really grateful that a young girl doing big things helped me to take the blinders off for a while and begin to think about what I can do in the next few days that could bring meaning back to Christmas - not only for me, but for someone else. We'll see what I come up with.

To donate or find information about Jayci's Wreaths for Heroes project, you can visit her Facebook page.


  1. Sarah, these lines are so true for me "We get stuck in our heads so easily in the midst of grief and trauma. We have blinders on much of the time." I always seem to have the reality of Jons illness and death front and center in my mind it skews my whole world and all interactions. I try to live with my grief alongside participating in living but I fail most of the time... I know our lives are precious but thru our eyes of grief so difficult to see at times. I have just recently found out 2 friends have stage 3 &4 lung cancer-another wake up call (like I needed another one), to live in the present and be there for those hurting around me especially those going thru their own complex Christmas.
    Thank you for sharing, Hugs and Hope. Shell

    1. Thank you Shell for your comment. I'm so sorry you are enduring this too - and about your two friends. You definitely don't need any more on top of it all. I think the best we can do is just give ourselves a break, especially around the holidays. I have been bitter and angry all this past week (despite having MUCH to be grateful for… my grateful switch was turned off and NOT turning back on!) I gave some money and hugs to a woman in need yesterday though - who had just lost her daughter THAT DAY in an auto accident. ALthought it triggered all my own stuff, it really did wake me up to look at what I am alive to experience today. Some days we can see that, some days we can't. Sending you love for the next few days, and all the ones after.