I was listening to the radio the other day how Christmas time can evoke a lot of emotions inside of us without even realizing it. On one hand, at it’s core, Christmas is a festive holiday bringing people together, filling them with joy and a sense of peace, away from the hustle and bustle of every day life. On the other hand, it can be a painful reminder of things we experienced around this time growing up, or even with recent losses, and how incredibly alone and depressed we can feel.
This will be the second Christmas ever that I will not be spending it with my son. After a disagreement back in late March, my son decided to move on with his life and live with his mom. He felt severing all ties from me would be the best thing for him despite my numerous heartfelt attempts to reconcile. I suspect the disagreement we had had much more to do than where we were going to play basketball. There was something deeper, and to this day I don’t fully comprehend the scope of his decision without him being able to articulate what’s buried underneath. Where once we had so many fond memories together, now has become daily feelings of regret, remorse, deep sadness, loneliness, confusion and anger. Not being able to share my love and joy with him, expressing how important he is to me this Christmas is extremely painful and feels undescribably lonely. In addition to not having him here, I’m reminded that my beloved cat Inori got really sick last year around this time and eventually passed away in February. She was my baby girl, my darling and gentle soul whom I loved dearly. I remember going back and forth to the vet with her last year during this time, trying to keep a hopeful heart for a full recovery, whilst looking into the vet’s eyes, only knowing that it was a matter of time I would have to say goodbye to my princess.
Growing up, Christmas time was always difficult. For those of you who don’t know me, I grew up in a home of family violence, arguments, shouting, neglect and beatings. The holiday season was no different for the Lee household. Though gifts were exchanged, there was always pain accompanying the holiday season. Either I was lectured and scolded for wanting a certain toy, limited to opening just one of my gifts to play with (while the balance would be given away), or I was yelled at and beaten by my dad because I wasn’t behaving the way he needed me to. When I got older and my big brother Joseph began to fall ill with schizophrenia, it was a terrifying time during Christmas. I was scared and confused, often locking myself in my bedroom until he would either go back to his room or go out of the house, thus my body often got confused between tremors of fear, and safety. Mom often worked every Christmas day to get the triple pay, even when I pleaded her not to. She would work her shift and then come home to make Christmas dinner, hardly having any opportunity to spend any delightful moments with me.
Just last night, I decided to go to Mom’s house for dinner. My brother Joseph was there and it was the first time in decades that I had dinner together with him. In fact, other than at a wedding this past August, this would be the first time I’ve even spent any moments together with Joseph in decades. Dinner at Mom’s this time around felt different. This year, I wanted to change my narrative of what Christmas feels like in my trauma-ridden body. I wanted to experience Christmas in the Lee household with a sense of peace, calm and loving energy, instead of anxiety. I looked forward going over for dinner this year, and where once I feared seeing Joseph, last night for the first time, I didn’t feel anxious, frightened or angry any more. I was excited and most of all delighted to share moments together.
Sadly, my brother’s illness has taken over his life. When I sat in the livingroom conversing with Mom, my brother was not only feeling anxious, but his random conversations with himself, incoherent speech and hunched posture were signs of a man who has suffered unspeakable pain in his life. My heart sobbed in deep regret and compassion for Joseph. He’s my brother and for the first time, I felt infinite sorrow for him. I felt compassion and love for Mom as well, watching her continue to chip away with her life, yet painfully reminded each and every day of her beloved little boy’s mental illness. He didn’t deserve this fate. No one did. My mom didn’t deserve this heart wrenching pain to see her beautiful son suffer. It’s not her fault. It’s not Dad’s fault. It’s not my sister’s. Nor is it mine either. It angers me that my big brother had his life stripped away from him at such a young age. He never had a chance to experience so many things in life, that most of us take for granted. What happened to Joseph is outright cruel and I can not deny myself of these feelings of injustice and sorrow.
I felt incredibly touched yesterday evening to sit at Mom’s house to briefly be a family with her and my brother again. And for the first time in a long time, I saw joy and happiness in my mom’s eyes. She shared stories with me over dinner, laughed and I felt and saw a different energy in her, as did I. My heart was open last night to Mom and Joseph. After all these years, my heart opened with love and compassion for my family. How could I have not felt this for so long? As my dear friend and counsellor Guillermo once told me, Jason, how could you feel these things for your family growing up, given what you experienced too? You had no space for those feelings.
It’s healing to know that, at long last, I created some space this Christmas. I left Mom’s sobbing tears of sadness, joy, loss, grief, regret, guilt, happiness, peace, compassion and love.
So this Christmas, I’ll be once again sharing it with D and her lovely kids. I’m blessed to not only have met a kind and warm hearted soul in D, but her kids are incredibly adorable. My body, my heart and my mind wants to be free and just enjoy and feel peace with what I have in my present life. My trauma, my losses are all real which sometimes holds me back from letting go. I’m fortunate than most people this Christmas and I think I need to remind myself that it’s OK to have this array of feelings: I can feel joy, along with my sadness. I can feel peace, along with my loneliness. I can feel happy, along with my regrets. I can feel playful, along with my melancholy. Who says Christmas must only be a time of happiness? We all experience life differently. Instead, we must honor whatever shows up for us, speak our truths, express all our feelings without judging them as right or wrong. Christmas time for me this year is a reminder of both the beautiful things and people I have in my world, along with the tears I shed honoring the losses in my life.
Wishing you all an Honest Christmas.