Hiraeth and Holiday Blues

hiraeth: a longing for a home to which you can not return, which maybe never was

My mom had a way of making moments both memorable and unrepeatable. She loved traditions, or at least the idea of them, but her instability and volatility made traditions difficult to keep. I have strange memories of holidays growing up. The good moments were so fun, exciting, and happy but many of them were filled with strife.

My mom’s energy was always the type that filled up the entire room. When she celebrated life, it was generally a little over the top (histrionic). This was often fun. She’d blast the music from a musical and sing all of the parts. I remember singing Godspell (I know all of the parts, too) and having a lot of fun with my mom. On a good day, my mom would happily sing Frank Sinatra and dance around, and at Christmastime she’d get excited about decorating. I distinctly remember finding this strange as a child. I always had trouble mirroring her excitement levels. Looking back, I can see that I was walking on eggshells as a little girl. It didn’t feel safe to get excited about happy things, knowing that a fight could erupt at any moment. These days, I barely ever see my mom at the holidays because our unresolvable fights usually occur before a plan can even be made. Instead, I worry because she is likely alone and I wonder how she is coping. Is she suicidal? What can/should I do? Would anything work?

I find myself longing for the home I almost had, the one that is there if I string all of the positive memories of my mom together and erase the parts that wouldn’t let those moments last.

I find myself somewhat relieved that I am not exposing my children to the confusing drama that almost always exists when my mom is around, and yet I wonder why she can’t choose to be different. On the first Christmas I spent with my husband (pre-kids), my mom complained about the song his younger sister was playing on the piano, saying it would make anyone “want to jump off a bridge.” She later cursed at my husband — in front of his mother — after being offended during a game of Scrabble. I feel bad for my mom because I’m sure she was struggling in these moments. Who would act that way otherwise? I am pretty sure she was upset that his sister was getting the attention (since my mom also loves to sing and play piano) and she was also uncomfortable with the traditional family and their holiday celebration. I think that when she feels insecure, she must make a scene to feel alive — and in power — again. I wish she could choose to pick out some fun music to play instead of starting a needless fight.

When I hear certain holiday songs that remind me of my mom, it is hard not to cry — even though the person who once sang those songs in joyful moments has been gone from me for a while. Her anger has become so much stronger than the love and joy she shares.

I know my mom has felt lost much of her life. I’m sure if she were to be honest, she would feel a longing for the home life (and mother) she needed but couldn’t really have because of circumstances and depression. Sometimes it seems that many of us are really just trying to find the home we couldn’t ever hold onto — the soft, safe place to land where we know we are loved and where we learn how to know and love ourselves, too. As I try to create this place for my children, I feel my own longing for the home I cannot grasp … the sense of home that comes from feeling deeply loved by your parents.

My mom loved to tell me that I could always come home, but it wasn’t quite true. There was a big catch — I could have no boundaries or autonomy. This does not feel like a safe home to me.

I am trying now to focus on creating my own safe place, my own new home, and on letting go of nostalgia. If I’m honest, this can sometime lead to feeling resentment towards others’ happy traditions. (No- I don’t want to see your mother’s tree or bake cookies with your grandma…) I realize this is immature and I think it is largely coming from a place of guilt. But, I didn’t cry in front of the kids while decorating the tree this year or sneak away to cry in the bathroom. So that is progress. I’m counting it as a win, and holding out hope that things will one day be better. The holidays are a good time to remember and believe in miracles, even as sadness lingers in the shadows.

How about you? Do you struggle with holidays because of your relationship with an estranged parent? What does home feel like to you? Please comment or message – i’d love to hear your story!

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