The Art of Regrouping (aka it's not a Hallmark movie Charlie Brown)

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Litsa Williams

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Late the night before Thanksgiving I got a call from my mom, who explained that she slipped and fell down a couple steps in her house and hurt her knee.  She had waited well over an hour to call anyone, thinking it would improve on its own. It didn't.  When we got there her pain was obviously debilitating and it was clear we were headed to the ER.  To make a long story short(ish), she was referred to an orthopedist and told not to move her knee, at all, until then.  By the time we came back to her house on Thanksgiving morning it was pretty clear that things were getting worse and not better. We all agreed, my mom included, that Thanksgiving was going to have to be postponed this year. We rented her a wheelchair on Thanksgiving Day, got her as situated as she could be, and made a plan to get in with an orthopedist first thing the next morning.

When my husband and I left her house that afternoon neither of us were exactly sure what to do with ourselves. It was Thanksgiving Day, after all, though it wasn’t feeling much like Thanksgiving.  So, in true American fashion, we made a stop at Starbucks to regroup.  I was concerned Starbucks might not even be open, but when we arrived the line was so long it almost went out the door.  We got our fancy, overpriced Starbucks drinks and both agreed it made no sense to try to put together a Thanksgiving dinner now.  I was feeling sleep-deprived, emotional, and a little overwhelmed when it occurred to me that were in a shopping center of my favorite Asian grocery store.  The plan immediately became clear.  We would get carryout sushi and go home to binge watch True Detective.  Obviously.

The holidays are a tough for me, Thanksgiving especially so.  They remind me of my dad and more others in my familly who are no longer with us than I care to count right now.  And that is in years that don’t involving my mom falling and ending up in the ER.  So, on the one hand, this Thanksgiving was a total disaster.  One that had me teetering on the edge of an emotional meltdown.  On the other hand, I really love sushi and True Detective.  When I texted Eleanor that evening about my day she replied telling me I had mastered “the art of regrouping”.  However absurd the new plan was, it allowed me to somehow salvage a little piece of my Thanksgiving.  Rather than crawling into bed a sulking, I at least did something.  Anything.

Here is the thing about holidays: we have this image in our minds of exactly what they are supposed to look like. That image is usually a big part memories from holidays past, mixed in with things we’ve seen on TV and in the movies, with a healthy splash of nostalgia thrown in.  This archetype for a holiday becomes deeply engrained.  Anything outside of it seems . . . wrong.  When the holiday turkey is ruined, it feels like nothing can replace it.  When no one has the energy to decorate the Christmas tree it seems it can’t truly be Christmas.  When someone is missing at the holiday table, it seems the whole holiday is a wash.

One of our readers recently left a comment on the blog explaining that this year, after moving back to her hometown, she had been feeling optimistic that the holidays would finally feel good again.  Unfortunately, she shared, life has gotten in the way of that.  The holidays are not shaping up to be what she had hoped..  Luckily she shared the new theme she adopted after accepting the fate of this holiday:  “It isn’t a Hallmark movie, Charlie Brown”.

Amen, sister.  Amen.

Sometimes our holidays don’t look the way we hoped they would.  They look nothing like a Hallmark movie.  Someone dies and you skip the holiday that year.  Someone falls and breaks her knee 12 hours before the holiday meal and you postpone the holiday til further notice.  You’re far from home, far from family, you aren’t in the house you love or with the people you love.  Whatever it is, our holidays get derailed for a million reasons.

This is when the art of regrouping emerges.  It is a moment not to say I am going to make this a great holiday!  It is a moment instead to say, I am going to pick myself up, brush myself off, and try to salvage something out of this day, however small.   This something may have nothing at all to do with the holiday at all.  In fact, chances are it won't.  This isn’t about optimism or looking on the bright side.   It is about a bare minimum of saying I can regroup, I will regroup, and I will reclaim something out of this day.

My Thanksgiving started off rough and it never managed to resemble a Thanksgiving.  But hey, I made it through and even had some yummy sushi, some good HBO programming, and some alone time with the S.O. to boot.  On the spectrum of Thanksgivings, it was pretty terrible.  But once I put those holiday expectations aside, on the spectrum of days it was far from the worst.

I read an article today in the Naples, FL local paper about the pain of the holidays after a loss.  A widow talked about her Thanksgiving this year saying, “On Thanksgiving Day I was all alone and I was feeling really depressed.  I called a friend and asked her to come by.  We just sat and talked for hours.  It was so soothing and salvaged the day”.  YES. Yes yes yes.  The art of regrouping, in action.

It isn’t about a perfect holiday, sometimes it isn’t about anything that even resembles a holiday.  It is about putting one foot in front of the other, taking a deep breath, and getting through.  It is about doing what you need in the moment, and that may have nothing to do with Christmas trees, snowmen, holiday carols and mistletoe.  It is about doing whatever it is that works for you, unapologetically.  That can take a million forms and none is more right or wrong that the other.  And thank our reader, Keli, if you need to repeat her matra to yourself:  it's not a Hallmark movie, Charlie Brown!

I wish you no need for holiday regrouping, but if you do please leave us a comment! It helps when we remember we are not alone.  And don’t forget to subscribe to get all our posts right to your inbox.

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22 Comments on "The Art of Regrouping (aka it's not a Hallmark movie Charlie Brown)"

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  1. Marcy  December 4, 2019 at 7:23 pm Reply

    I just read your post as I sit alone in a Church’s library. I started a Survivors of Suicide Loss in my community because there wasn’t one nearby. My daughter Lucy died by suicide nearly 4 years ago now. How my life has changed . Last month I had 16 people at this same time and place! Now, I am alone. So I lit the candle I brought, said a prayer and thought about how Lucy enriched my life for 23 years. Thank you for your endeavors! Marcy

  2. Bobbi  November 24, 2015 at 11:45 am Reply

    We’re going into our first holiday season since the death by suicide of our 17-year-old son. We are driving to my husband’s sister in the next state, where we’ll be joined by a large number of his extended family. I appreciate that they are trying to support us, but I’m not sure how I feel about having to be “on” for so many people. And we don’t even know about Christmas yet.

    I really like the Charley Brown quote, and I think I’m going to adopt it. You nailed the feeling of how imperative the archetypes are associated with our holiday celebrations, and how devastating it can feel when a day doesn’t live up to those expectations.

  3. Sandra  December 26, 2014 at 12:45 pm Reply

    Thank you for yet another great post!! My Mom passed away suddenly on October 4th and I took the advice that your site has given and recognized that the holidays would be different – so try to make something new of it. We did just this – we salvaged our Christmas and have made it QUITE different (or at least different in our eyes). We’ve had the first real tree in my entire life! We went out for Christmas eve which we normally never do and when I host my extended family in about a week from now, I am having Guiness stew instead of turkey!! We are also inviting friends over that will give my Dad a great lift and we’re playing some “minute-to-win-it” games that will definitely at least put a smile on everyone’s faces. Thanks again for your site!

  4. felicia  December 26, 2014 at 12:04 pm Reply

    I had a very memorable Holiday season and that was because I went in to it with no expectations. I just thought about what the holiday season meant to me.My sister has been battling breast cancer and she is finally looking better than she has in months.Her recovery was all that I wanted for Christmas.I saw my son who is making a life for himself in the “real world” and is doing very well on his own.Everything considered my holiday has been full of blessings.I know that I am truly blessed.

  5. Peggy  December 25, 2014 at 2:23 pm Reply

    Wonderful post. “Regrouping” is the perfect word.

    This is my first Christmas without both my parents, yet another of strained relations with (and therefore no holidays spent with) my son’s father and his partner, and we had to say goodbye to our old and sweet dog a couple weeks ago. Needless to say, I can relate to comments here. But my partner and I regrouped with an overnight stay at a lovely cozy hotel a few hours’ drive away (so scenery was very different from home – we even got some snow) which may be the beginning of a new holiday tradition for us, it was such a nice break from the usual.

    This is also the first year I won’t have seen my son on Christmas – so today I feel a little hollow and lost with it all – but we are getting together tomorrow to exchange gifts and celebrate Boxing Day. Maybe that will be OUR new tradition! It’s true, Christmas doesn’t have to happen on a specific day. To be sure there is much I have to be grateful for. This year’s holidays have been a little rough. Next year’s will be different, hopefully not so raw and tender.

    Your post (as they so often do, by the way) helped.

  6. D. Johnson  December 24, 2014 at 8:18 pm Reply

    The TV show “The Middle” often has examples of regrouping. Just this week they showed a Mother’s Day episode where Frankie chases a variety of activities trying to find a great Mother’s Day. As each choice fizzles, they all try to make the most of whatever choices are left. It showed that if you keep trying you can make yourself happy & satisfied in a circumstance far different than the one originally envisioned.

  7. Pat Mercedes  December 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm Reply

    This past year our Mom passed away. Today (Christmas eve), I am reflecting and grieving more than I did even at Thanksgiving. Feeling loss, grief, anger We are a pretty diverse group if sibs. One thing we alI have in common is our Mom. I really miss and appreciate all the ‘dumb’ gifts she gave us. The afghans, the cured salmon, the Panetoni, things that showed she cared; even if we did not. I read your post because a good friend of mine posted it. She is still grieving because a little over a year ago, her husband suffered a “widow maker” heart attack. We all grieve in different ways. That is our right. That is what we do because of our loss. Nothing can change that. Thank you for posting your non – Hallmark greeting. I, for one, needed that.

    • Litsa  December 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm Reply

      Pat, I am so sorry for the loss of your mom. There is no doubt that the holidays can cause us to reflect more than other times, and some holidays more than others. I hope you and your sibilings all find the way that works for each of you to get through the holiday, and I hope you find some comfort in the memories of you mom. Glad the post found you at the right time -hope your find other posts that help on our site!

  8. Debra Wagner  December 24, 2014 at 2:54 pm Reply

    It is so comforting when you are at your lowest, a Christmas miracle can turn your life around. I thank God I found your website. We all understand each other. The one thing I know for sure is I am a kinder person having lost my best friend and husband almost seven years ago. It is still unbearable at Christmas.

    • Litsa  December 24, 2014 at 3:59 pm Reply

      It is so true, Debra, that there is some comfort in finding others who understand. Eleanor posted a quote by Cheryl Strayed on our facebook page that I love – “The healing power of even the most microscopic exchange with someone who knows in a flash precisely what you’re talking about because she experienced that thing too cannot be overestimated.” No matter how many years pass, the holidays seem to always be an especially difficult time for so many. Glad you found us 🙂

  9. Keli Burfield  December 24, 2014 at 2:48 pm Reply

    You are very welcome, Litsa! And I do hope my mantra helps others. I appreciate this blog; it helped me understand what it is that I am trying to do. One of the more intentional ways I plan to re-group is to have our church open the Tuesday after Christmas for people to come in and have time for prayer and quiet reflection. I maybe the only one here but it is something I need and maybe others, too. We had a Blue Christmas service on Sunday. I gave the message and was very honest about my struggle. What you shared really helps to give me some perspective and put things in focus; I think it will even help me keep my sanity (and my temper) a little better. Thanks, again!

    • Litsa  December 24, 2014 at 4:13 pm Reply

      Ah, I love that you had a Blue Christmas service, and that you will opening on Tuesday. Over the years I have run grief groups and workshops and there have been times where no one has come, which can sometimes feel discouraging. I got a call once from a woman who regularly received the fliers about our groups, but had never attended. She called to say that even though she never came, she found it a great comfort to know that these events were there if she needed them. So, should it end up being only you, remember that some people find comfort and support just knowing that something or someone is there for them — even if they room is empty! And thanks again for giving us all a holiday theme we can embrace 🙂

  10. Kelly  December 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm Reply

    Wonderful article! Thank you, I needed to read something like this right now!!!!!

  11. Eric  December 24, 2014 at 1:07 pm Reply

    Our art of regrouping is escaping to the beach for a week. We’re beach people, so we hope it is completely therapeutic for us. The thought of Christmas without our beautiful Emily is really too much right now.

    • Litsa  December 24, 2014 at 4:22 pm Reply

      We totally support escaping for the holidays — sometimes it is exactly what you need. We were intereviewed for a piece in the Baltimore Sun recently with one of our grief friends/readers, Cara, who talks about booking a trip to Disneyworld the first holiday after losing her mom. I was so glad she talked about that, because I was hoping it would help others give themselves permission to get away for the holidays, if that is what they need. HHere is a link to the article, if you didn’t see it. Wishing you whatever small peace and comfort that you can find this holiday.

  12. Tom Krimminger  December 24, 2014 at 11:10 am Reply

    For what it’s worth. Twenty years in the Marine Corps taught us that Christmas doesn’t have to be celebrated on Dec 25th. How does Christmas in July sound? That works until you lose the love of your life (50 years). This will be my second Christmas without her and like most holidays they don’t hold much meaning anymore. Fortunately my children attempt to fill the void and for that I am grateful but it’s just not the same–hope I put on a good face. For holidays such as Christmas I try to remember the true meaning and pray that my WORLD will return some day. And just remember you never have to look very far to find someone who has it worse than you whether you care to admit it or not.

    • Litsa  December 24, 2014 at 4:26 pm Reply

      Tom, I can’t even fathom losing someone I had been with and loved so deeply for 50 years. No doubt that Christmas (celebrated whatever day!) will never be what it was, but I do hope you find some comfort in 50 years of wonderful memories. Take care this holiday and in the new year . . .

  13. Toni  December 24, 2014 at 10:39 am Reply

    Very in my feelings today. Very first Christmas without any grandparents (last grandmother passed in September); working 2 jobs has prevented me from spending time with my family like I’m used to. I’m at work on Christmas Eve until 6 and then I have a 2 hour drive to my parents’ house where I’ll meet my husband. This year, I haven’t been able to shop with Mom or help her get things ready for Christmas brunch. I’m just really in my feelings because all I want to do is go home. 🙁

  14. Linda Rubano  December 24, 2014 at 1:15 am Reply

    Christmas won’t be the same without the man I love but for the sake of my family I soldier on. Today I had to pick my granddaughter up from school, meeting at a different door as I was driving. She wasn’t there and the women in charge said she had left with her friend and her mother. I drove to the house but she wasn’t there. Back to the school I went, now in full panic mode. I went to the office and those wonderful women went about going through the process of finding her. By now I was a wreck, sobbing and hardly able to catch my breath. She was outside the school with her friends father, waiting for someone to pick her up. It was a terrible experience for me but all’s well that ends well. Now, having taken a Xanax and a cup of tea, I still miss my love but SO grateful that my little one is safe. Now the holiday won’t seem quite as bad. Things could always be worse.

    • Litsa  December 24, 2014 at 4:28 pm Reply

      Oh Linda, just reading you describe this gives me a sense of panic, so I can’t even imagine how terrible it must have been going through it. So glad she was safe and all was okay. No doubt the holiday will be difficult, but I am glad you are finding the small things to be grateful for.

  15. Delores Abramson  December 24, 2014 at 1:03 am Reply

    I lost my precious husband a year ago, Dec.20. The pain is insurmountable!

  16. Tracy Piazza  December 24, 2014 at 12:34 am Reply

    Your website is wonderful. I lost my LOVE of 27 years in August. I saw you both being interviewed by WBAL-TV and learned about your website. Thank you for all of your hard work and devotion to this topic. You make a difference.

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