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DivorceWise Newsletter
Issue 5 - 2001 by Kari West - Garden Glories Publications
Topic: When Christmas is Tough

Welcome Survivor!

Welcome! Wherever you are in your journey through the loss of your marriage, you know that the holidays can be the toughest time of year. Many of us have trouble getting through this season. In this newsletter, we'll talk about what those glossy holiday photos in magazines don't show and about what those typical Christmas articles don't say. We'll look at how loss changes us--and our view of the holidays as well.

How about these statistics:

  • Many people do not celebrate the holidays at home. Instead, 44.5 million say they travel; 35% stay in hotels or resorts to minimize the holiday frenzy.
  • 10% of American families do not decorate their homes for the holidays. 56% of those who do start with the living room.
  • 15 million Americans under 18 live below the poverty line and may be unable to feast at home on typical holiday fare. Many celebrate Christmas at a shelter or outreach program.
  • 44% of women cite "loss of loved ones" as the reason for their holiday blues.

Here's what's new:

Kari's story, "Between Two Worlds," appears on pages 340-42 in the recently released New York Times best-seller Chicken Soup for the Single's Soul.

December's issue of Single Parent Family Magazine features her article, "Christmas Crisis." Call Patty Willis at 719-531-3400, ext.1740 for a complimentary copy from Focus on the Family.

In this 5th issue of the DivorceWise newsletter, the featured survival story from a woman just like you comes from Judy in Ontario, Canada. She knows just how tough the holidays are. Three years ago mid-December her husband announced he wanted out of their 17 year marriage. A year later, three days before Christmas, their divorce became final.

Personal reflection ... by Judy in Ontario, Canada

In the summer of 1996, after spending 13 years as missionaries, my husband and I arrived back in North America "for good." Our two children anguished over having to leave behind the only home they had known and their closest friends to come to a place where they had no close ties and felt like fish out of water.

To make matters worse, my husband and I both knew our marriage was on rocky ground. In fact, he had been telling me for over two years that he thought he had made a mistake marrying me and that he shouldn't have to pay for that mistake for the rest of his life.

Not long after our return, we went to counseling together. My husband had already found a counselor to help him deal with his issues. He came with me to my counselor because he thought it would help me get started on dealing with my issues. After several sessions, it was suggested that we separate for two months. So just three months after we had left the mission field, I was on my own.

On December 17, in a joint meeting with the counselor, my husband told me that he didn't want to come back into the marriage. On the 18th, we met in a restaurant to talk over some details about the separation. On the 19th, he came over for supper with the purpose of telling our children that he wasn't coming back. He never did tell them.

Of all that was happening that first Christmas, the worst part was seeing my children's pain. But I figured if our being together could help ease this pain in some small way, I was willing to try. So I invited my husband to spend Christmas Eve with us, thinking it would make it easier on the children.

Since someone had given me a little money, I used some of it to buy a Christmas tree. As I set it up, I thought back to the Christmas before when we were still on the mission field, and how I had packed all our keepsake ornaments separately because I wanted to take them with me if we were ever evacuated from the country. That had been on my mind at the time due to some political instability in the country that never materialized into anything severe enough to warrant evacuation. So as I decorated my new tree, I was grateful that I did have something familiar to put on it.

On December 23rd, the kids went with their dad for the day and stayed overnight with him. On the morning of the 24th, the four of us had our usual Christmas breakfast together. Painfully, I prepared this special holiday meal that we had always shared on happier Christmas days when we lived overseas. That evening, the children and I attended our church's Christmas Eve service. Afterwards, their dad came over and we exchanged gifts. It was like all of us were trying to stall the inevitable, acting as though everything was still the same.

I had put on a brave face so many other Christmases that in a way this was just one more. I was quite good at stuffing the pain, dodging the verbal attacks, and acting as though it didn't matter--that I just did it again. Why, that year I even bought a gift for my husband! I can't remember what it was, but I do remember that he didn't have one for me. But he had shopped with the kids and they bought me gifts with his coaching, some stuff for the kitchen. His lack of caring was so evident.

The worst part came right before he left when we stood in a circle, the four of us holding hands, while my husband prayed for us. What a travesty! But, then again, he was good at acting too. Later that Christmas day I wrote in my journal: "Knowing that he doesn't want to be in the marriage and having him around is very hard to take. I don't think I'll have him over for a meal again. This sure hurts." But my journal never really revealed the depth of my pain. I don't think I knew how to express it then.

In the days that followed, the children and I kept busy. We were stunned and shocked. I felt like I was walking in a daze, going through the motions of living but not really connecting. The reality of making it on my own absorbed so much of my mental, emotional and physical energy.

Seven months later, I began thinking about what I would do the following Christmas. I remember talking to God about it and wondering what would happen. Providentially, in mid-July, an old friend asked me and the kids to come to their place on Christmas Day. I don't really remember the actual day and didn't even mention it in my journal. It was a blur--and here's why: Less than a month before, on November 27, I had received notice of the divorce judgment that would take effect 30 days later--December 21st!

A year has passed since that time. This December, I put up the same tree that I bought three years ago when we returned home from the mission field. Right now it's unobtrusively bare with just one string of lights. This year decorating seems like a chore, even though I bought new lights and a couple new glass balls. So much has changed--and I have changed. In the past, I loved decorating my Christmas tree. Now all those nostalgic ornaments remain packed. To this day the ornament that says "Our First Christmas" still remains wrapped in tissue paper. As I'm writing this, I'm thinking, Maybe this year I'll throw it out.

Some days I feel like the holidays are hitting me like a ton of bricks--all the family stuff, friends getting together, while I feel excluded and out of the loop. I still don't know where I fit--or where I want to fit. That first year on my own, I tried so hard to be "up" and to do the right thing. Now I'm learning that maybe I don't need to try so hard. Somehow ... some way ... some day ... when I get around to finishing the job, this year's tree will have a new look.

In fact, a lot of things in my life have a new look. As I look back to that first Christmas when my family was breaking up, I see that we coped the best way we knew by being together for the sake of the children. Watching my husband act as though nothing was wrong and refusing to talk about what was really happening helped me realize there really wasn't much hope of rebuilding our relationship. Now I see that he had already left me a long time ago in every way except physically.

How do I cope now?

1. My faith in God; He is all I have left. That first Christmas when the pain of rejection was still so fresh, I wrote these words in my journal: The Lord won't forget me. He has engraved me on the palms of his hands (Isaiah 49:15-16).

2. Every day I read five Psalms. By year's end, I read through them 12 times. They express my anguish and anger; and they reveal God as my protector, provider, rescuer, redeemer, restorer, refuge, and strong tower.

3. I try to do as many "usual" activities as I can handle physically and emotionally. There's comfort in tradition and ritual. Since I have two teenagers, I am motivated to make our life as normal as possible--although there's nothing normal about one's marriage falling apart. Last New Year's Day, I invited for dinner the people who had helped me during that year; I knew they wouldn't condemn me for the divorce.

4. I keep going--one step at a time, one day at a time and refuse to focus on the huge wall of blackness that looms ahead. Sometimes it's more of a heavy plodding than a light-hearted feeling. But I feel God telling me that I don't need to know what tomorrow brings; that I can trust Him for today. New habits of trust are forming. I'm learning to be content and to keep walking--to keep walking even through this upcoming Christmas season. Emmanuel--God is with me ... and with you.

Help for today ... by Kari

Even in the best of times, Christmas preparations can choke us like an executioner's noose. It's a known fact that women do most of the work. Send those cards. Starch that tablecloth. Snap those photos. Then, after all is said and done, we stand on tiptoes waiting for the magic to begin. And somehow it never quite does. No wonder we're stressed out.

Could it be that we set out expectations too high and put too much pressure on ourselves to make the holidays happen? I wonder, remembering my childhood cheeks sticking to the cold glass of department store windows in downtown Los Angeles. Holding my mother's hand, I stood on tiptoes then, watching the animation and squealing with delight until my breath fogged the view. Christmas was magical! Beneath glitter and garland, dolls with lacquered lips nestled beside precisely placed presents. Sequined sweaters and plastic smiles of a mannequin family shimmered in the tinsel and twinkle of tree lights. So poised and proper. Polished and perfect. For years, I tried so hard to perpetuate this magic.

Maybe that's one good thing that loss does for us--it slows us down and grows us up. Because it wasn't until I reached my hand into a mailbox 12 years ago this December and pulled out a divorce summons that I awakened from my dime-store daydreams. In that moment, I joined with the many just like Judy for whom a picture-perfect Christmas no longer exists. To be honest, I doubt if it ever did exist.

So if you're struggling with the holidays this year, you are not alone. And you are not going crazy if you wince when the car radio plays a Christmas carol. Or if shopping in the mall makes you sad when all you see are couples and you feel like you just don't fit. Or if you're dragging your feet about getting a tree or cooking the meal. Many people, who are separated from loved ones by distance instead by death or divorce, say they feel the same way.

Maybe you're like Judy--you're wondering whether you want to continue lugging that box of ornaments from the past. Or you are thinking what I thought--how do I send Christmas cards and what do I say? Perhaps you are wishing you could simply erase December from your calendar. I have to admit that sometimes I still wish that!

Wherever you are--whether your husband just announced his leaving or you have been divorced a couple years--the holiday season will probably always be a struggle. It will never look--and probably never has looked--quite like the magazines say it should. This time of year we tend to forget that because the days are shorter, darkness comes a little sooner and lasts a little longer. Medical experts say that reason alone accounts for why lots of people feel let down.

We also forget that the greatest sermon ever preached took place, not in a brightly lit, ornately decorated, crowded cathedral, but in a plain farm field of a poor country beneath a dark sky in front of a few ordinary shepherds. Both the good news and the greatest gift arrived at night. Because God so loved the world He sent His Son, Jesus, to save mankind from the darkness of the soul (Luke 2:8-20).

Into your own dark December comes this undeserved and unbelievable love gift from the Father. God is with you. He accepts you just the way you are, whether you feel merry or moody. His love can hold together the frayed fabric of your life-the unraveling edges of regret, the snags of sorrow, the knots of shame and each rip of pain that you are feeling this holiday season. Tinsel, sequins and mannequins can't do that. Tinsel is temporary. Sequins melt. And mannequins get put away. But nothing can separate you from God's love-not even divorce!

If the holidays are hitting you like a ton of bricks, it's okay. Your front door will survive without a wreath this year. The bathroom will manage without reindeer hand towels. And that naked pine tree huddling in the corner of your room looks just fine without all that holiday fluff. Embrace what endures. Look up! Bask in the light of heaven's bright morning star (Revelation 22:16). You are loved!

A promise you can trust

"Look! The virgin will conceive...she will give birth ... he will be called Immanuel, meaning God is with us." ---Matthew 1:23 New Living Translation

Please stop by again soon

Please let me hear from you. I answer every letter and e-mail. Also, be encouraged to share what helped you through your divorce so others know they are not alone and that they too will survive. E-mail by Clicking Here or write Kari West, P. O. Box 11692, Pleasanton, CA 94588.

Copyright 1998 - 2002 by Kari West