The Joy Gap
Okay, here it is. The answer to the question everyone has been asking me… “How are your holidays going?”
I like to be timely. As a publicist it is important that my work is well-timed and ahead of the curve. So I thought it was important to post a blog about the holidays as we were moving into the holidays. I thought that if I was going to be helpful in any way that I needed to get out in front of it and post something thoughtful and useful for people in my shoes or people who know someone in my shoes. I would sit with my notebook and start outlining my thoughts, but then I realized I really didn’t have any. Of course not. I hadn’t experienced my first Thanksgiving or Christmas or my first New Year’s Eve without Pete. I decided at that point that I would be a little less timely, but a little more informed, and actually experience the situation before I wrote about it. So here I am.
I could tell by the number of times I’d been told that the “holidays are really difficult,” that I was in for a bad few weeks. I anticipated a bomb dropping on me. So I waited with high anxiety. And nothing drastic happened. Nothing drastic happened, but I definitely noticed that I didn’t feel like pulling out Christmas decorations, or putting up a Christmas tree. I didn’t feel like going to holiday parties or hosting events. I didn’t feel like Christmas shopping. I did all of those things anyway because I have always really loved the holidays. I mean I LOVE them like a kid loves them. I get giddy and excited. I love all the rituals, and I’m pretty locked in on about a million of our family traditions. So I didn’t want to cancel Christmas and fly to Fiji for a tropical holiday. I also didn’t want to stay at home and pretend like it was any other Sunday and read a book. I knew if I did nothing, I might regret it for me and for my kids. So I decorated and attended and hosted. But I didn’t do those things with the exuberance of a child the way I normally would have. I put up lights, and they looked pretty. I turned on the tree at night, and it was beautiful. I bought sparkly Christmas cards and slowly wrote notes. But I felt no joy. I felt no excitement. Nothing gave me butterflies of anticipation on Christmas morning and Christmas music was only moderately enjoyable when I could listen to it at all. I even had difficulty listening to Pete’s Christmas albums. All the while I’m thinking to myself, “Is this what people were warning me about?”
I don’t know how it affects others but here’s what I figured out for myself. The horrible feelings of panic and desperation and sorrow that I thought would come crashing into me didn’t happen. The blow to the jaw I was expecting never hit me. I simply felt no joy. I didn’t really feel any worse than I feel most every day, but the expectation of how happy I was supposed to be was so high that the gap between sorrow and joy was huge. I was no lower, the ceiling was just a lot higher.
The holidays are so amped up with expectation and emotion. I’ve been told this is my year of firsts so my “first Christmas” has been on my list of things to worry about for months and months. But I feel the loss of Pete every day and nearly every minute. I miss him all the time, and a trip to the post office or the grocery store without him is just as painful as a trip to the mall to shop for Christmas presents.
One thing I missed the most this year was the Christmas gifts from Pete. He was always very generous and usually got me the things that only a husband would—the more expensive and personal items that I would never put on my regular Christmas list. You know, jewelry, perfume, a set of All-Clad cookware and giant wind chimes. But I got some really great advice from Marcy, my best friend from high school. She told me to pull out some of the things that Pete had given me over the years and enjoy them all over again. It was brilliant and did my heart so much good. And then I went Christmas shopping for myself. I picked out three small things that I thought Pete might have gotten for me (yes, one of them was a great All-Clad saucepan) and I wrapped them and put them under the tree. When we handed out Christmas presents that morning, they were labeled TO: ERIN – FROM: ____ . I left it blank. By the time I unwrapped them, I almost had forgotten what I bought for myself. (Welcome to 55).
So I survived the holidays. I feel sad taking down all the decorations and signs of the season, but I’m happy to get back to my wonderfully busy and distracting days–to lower the ceiling back to its normal height and put my expectations for joy a little bit more within reach.
What are your expectations for yourself? How do you manage the joy gap? When do you most notice the joy gap--holidays, family get togethers? Please comment