Hump Day: Seek out and embrace the joy of Christmas

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Christmas is a melancholy time of year for many people. Many of us, including me, have lost loved ones this year.

My father passed away on Aug. 26 after a long period of failing health. For many years, he had not been a “Christmas” person. He just didn’t seem to care much about the festivities anymore. He’d make poutines râpées and give them to people he knew, of course, but Christmas seemed to more of an intrusion into his much beloved routine.

There was no city transit that day, so he couldn’t really get around. Everything was closed – even Tim Hortons. (That’s changing this year, apparently, with a number of them in the area remaining open on Christmas Day.) The same old movies were on television. To be honest, he just didn’t enjoy it and hadn’t for a long time.

What he looked forward to, however, were the World Junior Hockey Championships. That was definitely something he looked forward to. He would root for Canada and watched every game he could on television. He just loved it.

That was Christmas to him: those hockey games! I’m not sure if he has a direct line into who’ll win this year, but you can be sure that if you’re watching the game and the puck seems to have a mind of its own and finds itself in the other team’s net more often than not, it wouldn’t surprise me that my father’s down there on the ice with those kids doing what he can to help us take home the gold.

But my father had lived his life. He had an opportunity to grow old. He had a family. He had friends. He had a career. Even though, it’s sad not to have him around this year. I’ll miss seeing him at the special care home surrounded by boxes of chocolates.

I catch myself from time to time telling the dog we’re going over to see Dad at “the home” so that he can get to see her and pet her. Then I remember. And I catch myself sometimes wondering what to get him for Christmas. Then I remember again.

Luckily, it doesn’t happen very often. There was a long lead-up to his passing, after all. Nearly three months in the hospital. A year-and-a-half in the special care home before that. And literally years of us discussing how his health and independence were going downhill for even more years before that. We certainly weren’t oblivious to the inevitable end. It was his time – and no one even tried to argue that it wasn’t. The signs had been there for years and everyone around him witnessed them.

But then I think of those 20 first-grade children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In one fell swoop, they were gunned down by a madman. Six adults at the school were also killed. The gunman even killed his own mother before heading over to the school. She isn’t mentioned often, but for all we know, she tried to stop him. Just because she was the registered owner of the weapons doesn’t mean she was evil, nor that she ever had any evil intentions, although God only knows why she needed such powerful guns in her home.

Christmas and Chanukah for those families — and indeed for that entire community — have been killed this year, too. Perhaps permanently, but hopefully not. It may not seem like it now, but the sun will shine again. At least I hope it will. I read today that the town is taking down their Christmas decorations. I certainly can’t blame them, but I hope they return next year. Don’t let the madman kill everyone else’s spirit, too.

Beloved late children’s television host Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood had an excellent quote that I saw posted online quite often. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Truer words were never spoken, especially after this week. The helpers were everywhere.

Sometimes it’s difficult to be happy around the holidays when we’ve experienced a personal loss or when something so monumentally catastrophic and tragic has happened in the world — especially to innocent children.

Sometimes it’s even difficult because of other bad memories related to this time of the year. I know some adult children of alcoholics who still find Christmas difficult. Let’s just say, if their father drank and was a jerk during the year, it was nothing — and I mean nothing — compared to when Christmas came around. Doesn’t exactly make for the image on the front of a Christmas card, does it?

Regardless, whether we feel like it or not, Christmas will come. Whether they take our parents — or our children — or our memories — Christmas will come. We can hole ourselves up in a room and pretend it isn’t happening, but we’re only stopping a little of that Christmas spirit from coming into our hearts — you know, that spirit that leads to giving more of ourselves than we usually do. Generosity. Smiles. Goodwill.

The first Christmas after a loss is no fun, but people have been dealing with this for generations. Some losses are bigger than others, of course. Far be it from me to compare the loss of an elderly parent from natural causes with the senseless murder of a child. But one day… one day… I sincerely hope that this time of year will once again bring a smile to the faces and hearts of those touched by so much sadness.

There is joy all around. Seek it out. Embrace it. And hold on tight if you need to.

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