The Angst At The
End of the Holiday

Sunday night,
November 28, 1999



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"There's No Place Like Home For The Holidays..."

Assuming, of course, that home is still an option.

What a paradox it is that the holiday season, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's, is the time many people dread more than any other. It's more than seasonal affective disorder, although many areas are cold and dark. This is the lonely time, the time when depression is at its most consuming. The bright lights and cheerful music are an ironic facade for the many who must face the holidays without the love of family.

Margaux was out of town for Thanksgiving, but I would not be alone. My young friend Karren arrived from Tucson Wednesday night. She brought most of her textbooks in preparation for first semester exams, scheduled for soon after the holiday.

Karren and I enjoy each other's company so much. We have almost a mother-daughter relationship, and we have both felt the rejection of our birth families. I will never understand the judgmental mind-set which has hurt us so badly: failing to understand experientially the conflict in our lives, they choose to believe it is not reality for us either. Since we do not - cannot - conform to their expectations, they banish us from their lives. It's so hard to see a child rejected by her parents, when all she wants is their love and acceptance. She, of course, sees the child's point of view and wonders how my son can reject me.

We make our own family, as well as we can. A couple with whom I work have become our close friends and we spend time together often. This is the third Thanksgiving we have enjoyed as a group. I had volunteered to roast the turkey this year, and to bring several side dishes. I had a new recipe calling for the turkey to be soaked in brine overnight before roasting. To my delight, it turned out just as I expected. The cornbread dressing and wild rice complemented the main dish, and my new experiment - spicy chilaquiles - drew praise from everyone. We lingered over coffee and pecan pie before saying our goodbyes.

I had hospital work to do over the long weekend, but Karren kept herself busy with her studies. At night we enjoyed dinner and movies. Finally on Saturday night the two of us went to the airport to pick up Margaux. It was wonderful to get the three of us together again! We seemed to be quite the family unit at the late-night diner where we stopped on the way home.

Finally on Sunday it was time to take her back to connect with her ride to Tucson. We hugged and promised to get together again during Christmas. As I drove back from the airport, I began to feel the same disquiet which has characterized my holiday times for so long.

It's an emptiness... an angst, a feeling of something missing, an envy perhaps of those Norman Rockwell families portrayed in paintings and in movies. I'm sure there are families whose holidays are truly like this. It just hasn't been my experience.

All families experience strains and difficulties. Some face their difficulties and deal with them in healthy manners. Many deal with problems by choosing not to deal with problems; pretend they are not there and they will go away. This works for the duration of the "family time." Once the goodbyes have been said and everyone returns home, the emptiness returns as strongly as ever. I've known many persons who would return from a family visit, go to bed, bury their heads in the pillow and cry.

The promotion of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays as being a joyful family time has validity for some families, but for many other families - and for those great numbers of us who have no family to accept or love us - it is often a disappointment, a reminder of that which is missing in our lives. As long as we maintain our unrealistic expectations for the holidays, we will set ourselves up to experience the emptiness of failure.

There are options for us. It's very hard to keep dwelling on our own misfortune when we are giving of ourselves to help others. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters are always grateful for volunteer help; some of my memorable holiday experiences have come from serving there. The members of a support group may find it natural to come together to form a "family." In Georgia, during my transition, we were very successful in combating the loneliness by banding together. I have wonderful memories from Christmas and New Years with Michelle Kelly and our other friends.

Here, then, is my holiday wish for all those feeling this angst tonight. May you make your own family experiences, sharing love and laughter with others who need you as part of their circle. May the love and laughter persist when the holiday ends.

In the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

Paul McCartney, 1969