I didn’t feel cheer. I started to think there was something wrong with my vision. What should have been merry and bright was either dimmed and greyed or harsh and painful. Even a little vulgar. I felt a sting at others joy, and longed to share in it.
What should have been joyous preparations, felt like struggling to survive. I scavenged for joy. I mechanically did the “things” I had to do. I cooked. I cleaned. I sought out fellow survivors. some, with fear… their survival stories often inspired grief as and confirmation of already felt fear as they did hope.
There were no zombies…. well.. except for maybe, me. There was no nuclear war. It wasn’t global warming, or a pandemic. But it was a post apocalyptic Christmas.
As a family, we’ve survived several post apocalyptic Christmas.’ I’m guessing you have too. (Fortunately, we’ve had many more with out cataclysms.) But the holidays, even with all their wrappings and trappings- do not bubble wrap protect us from pain.
One year- the apocalypse was an accident that made everything difficult and painful. Some years there were financial apocalypses. One year it was cataclysmic grief. One year severe pain. Another- a cancer diagnosis and on going treatment.
So what do you do when you’re trying to survive (and maybe still try to celebrate) your own post apocalyptic Christmas?
Here’s what I’ve learned from ours:
1) Acknowledge the crazy that is joy and pain tossed like a salad and throw onto the table of your life. There’s no denying it. You can’t pretend it away or try to make everything “normal.” Post apocalyptic Christmas’ are different. It would take a psychotic break with reality to make them not be. It’s okay.
2) Acknowledge and allow that the joy of others may sting when you are hurting. Allow them joy- and allow yourself grief. It’s ok. Your grief (struggle) needn’t be hidden. But it’s also okay to engage in the joy of others. It can be good for your heart- if you can get past the very normal feeling of jealousy or denial.
3) Grieve what and when you need to grieve. Rejoice and enjoy what and when you need to. There is no need to feel guilty for moments of joy found in grief. They can be precious gifts.
4) Take time for some “normal.” Even in zombie and other post apocalyptic movies- humans relish in the moments of normal. You probably can’t do EVERYTHING you’d typically do- nor would that be healthy…. but choose a few things that are most precious- maybe a ride to look a lights, or a family tradition of watching a movie…..something simple but that speaks “holiday” to you- and endeavor to enjoy it. It’s okay if tears or fears randomly well up. Just let them. and carry on with the tradition.
5) Find some quiet. Find some heart to worship. Find some beauty. You might have to look hard. Pain, sickness, loss, hardships all make these things hard to see and find… but not impossible. To find quiet I sometimes have to get up really early- or stay up late. Which works- because apparently most apocalyptic experiences drew up my ability to sleep. I use those as my quiet moments. I’ve also been known to grab my camera and just go for a walk… somehow getting behind the lens helps me find beauty, even in some of the ugliest times and places. Or, I grab a book- and read beautiful words. Sometimes- I take a few minutes to create something beautiful… I like to knit (major understatement, there- I’m addicted to it.) But creating something beautiful in the middle of pain helps me cope. When I don’t FEEL like worshipping- sometimes I just put on some music and see if it changes… (It usually does- but not always. Sometime my worship is just an offering of being still.)
Finally- know that you are not alone. Cataclysms of personal and other kinds are not respecters of season or tradition. Chances are someone else you know is hurting too. Reach out. Don’t make a meal or try fix it- your own apocalypse will limit your resources- of energy, time etc. However- sharing in each others pain is precious. (Actually- I believe it’s a holy experience . When a few pain filled people come together to love each other beyond and through their own pain…. it can be amazing.)
It also- gets better- loss, pain, sickness diagnosis’ that suck….. while they may or may not improve- will not make every holiday for the rest of your life feel zombie like. It’s over 2 years since my husband’s cancer diagnosis- and while there are moments when the tears well up, and odd times when the fear threatens to overwhelm….like most apocalyptic survivors we’ve reached a new (uncomfortable, messy, imperfect) normal. The pain from our loss’s during the holidays become less stabbing with pain and more sweet with memories of those lost. Cancer is being fought with everything we have.
We fear, we grieve and we rejoice.
In a way it must be a bit like that very first Christmas….. When shepherds quaked, Israel wept for their sons and the world rejoiced over the birth of a savior.
Dear Lord- Most of us at one time or another face what feels like a post apocalyptic holiday. Our hearts long for a joyous one- but they feel bipolar with grief and joy. Help us survive, Lord. Help us find beauty. Help us find quiet. help us accept and acknowledge the crazy mix of it all. Help us to share our grief and our joy. Help us find the joy we can and find hope that grief and fear and pain can change over time. Be with us. Comfort us. Remind us that Christmas from the very beginning was a mix of rejoicing, fear and grief….. Remind us that it’s ok not to be “happy “all the time. Most of all lord remind us of your love- even here- in our post apocalyptic Christmas’ I love you Lord- and trust you-mostly. amen.
If you’re experiencing a post apocalyptic or apocalyptic Christmas of your own….. I’d love to pray for and with you. Please let me know- either in the comments of via email….. You matter- so does your pain- to me and to God. Even here.