I know that the holidays are a time of confusion, stress, and loneliness for many estranged during the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas are no longer my favorite holidays, but NOT as one would think because of the estrangements. In fact, once I was no longer getting tense, irritable, and waiting for it to be over...without truly understanding why or investigating it too deeply, holidays became not traditional but enjoyable again.
Unfortunately, we have suffered some very personal losses around the months of November and December. Thanksgiving has become the time where I celebrate my Italian grandparents or think about them a lot. Their holidays were always fun and loving events. I have even been learning (with my husband) to cook somethings that bring back those wonderful and warm memories. Sweet potato pie with plenty of large fluffy marshmallows on top, for instance, is a must on Thanksgiving. My grandfather passed away a few days after our last Thanksgiving, and that is why I usually spend the day thinking about the both of them. My grandmother lived a good while longer, but as one might imagine there was sadness there between only having one of eight siblings still alive and the death of her long time and much beloved husband.
I always kid that I missed the cooking gene that my grandmother had in abundance, and think I should have been paying attention when she was sewing, cooking, knitting, and crocheting. She loved cooking for me, and so didn't ask me to help that much. I wish I had insisted on being involved and paying attention at the time. My husband obviously paid attention when his mother was making their dinners in the kitchen, and it shows!! So part of honoring my grandparents has been enjoying cooking with my husband and beginning to learn just a little bit about what goes into it.
I have never really had a problem with baking, and that is most likely because it is very much about measuring exactly. I understand the exacting directions of baking.
Our "traditional" Thanksgiving has become preparing dinner and taking the dogs for a walk on the beach. I am sure football makes it's way in there as well.
Unless I am in a room full of people that I like and know (as opposed to being in a room full of people that I see exactly twice a year, as in the past---this actually used to include my sperm donor--our total annual conversation could probably be less than two hours and about 5 to 15 minutes on the holidays) is so much more enjoyable. Thanksgiving does not happen to be a day that this syncs due to my business, and we often have lots of canine guests. I enjoy our Thanksgivings. It is a day of thanks for me for knowing the love of my Italian grandparents, and for those other family members that selflessly (and without an agenda of theirs or someone else) reach out to me.
I am also extremely thankful for my husband and my great dogs. I am thankful that I do what I want for a living and not what others expected of me or wanted to inflict onto me. I am thankful to have a roof over my head and food in my mouth (and my dog's mouths) during this hard economy. I am thankful to be free of a prior life that was damaging to me, and to instead embrace all the wealth of love that I have now.
Not everyone has this reaction or experience. After all, their estrangements are likely quite different than mine. So keep in mind those family members that may be suffering with divorce, estrangement, empty nest syndrome, or can't get around to the places they used to like they once did. (this is a suggestion to the general and non estranged public) For the estranged having a problem, give yourself a break. We can't always turn on the "happy" button. If you can enjoy the day, do. If it is a source of stress and grief for you, I would advise that you allow that to come out at least once on a holiday. Everyone grieves differently. I have found that embracing it on occasion can let go the "time release" of the pain. If I let it have the day or the week, then I seem to heal faster.
Everyone is different though. As close as my husband and I are, we have very different grieving styles. So be aware of that when watching others go through their times of pain, and try to be empathetic to this.
Just one more thing, there does not have to be "assigned" days to spend with your family. We have spent time with our family on other days, and had great times and memories. A lot of times, they make us feel like we are on vacation even when we are still working during the day, just by spending some hours at the beach boogey boarding or touring the town with us. Holidays are really just big marketing schemes to secure some big shopping days, if you think about it logically.
NOTE: That is if you are not religious, and then their are other meanings in the holidays. I happen to be agnostic, so there is no deep meaning in those days other than happy memories raiding the stockings at my grandmothers house with my cousins!!
NOTE2: This can also be a time of hurtful contact. This can come in the form of a direct letter, e-mail, or more subtle passive aggressive behavior of spreading lies, untruths, and paranoid fantasy's about a you that simply does not exist! If this person is not someone who truly loves you and has your well being at heart, please see it for what it is, a cry for attention or another attempt to harm you. Sometimes it feels good to react, and I am not going to suggest that anyone not indulge in that on occasion. Just be aware, this is what this unkind person wants...desperately...and not so they can hug and embrace you later on OR so that any boundaries will be adhered to in the future. At some point, after years of paying attention, you will hopefully know the difference, move on, and just be sad for them.
Be aware, that when you ignore them, things tend to spin out of control. As in my previous article on narcissists, the very worst thing you can do to them is to ignore them, because they cease to exist without the mirror reflecting back at them. At least if you respond, they can say you are unwell, crazy, and sick. Usually that really is their reflection, and has nothing to do with you.
At the point where you have become complacent that they might feel bad about lies that they have spread about you, is exactly the time you will find that the will to stop hurting you has again ended. What they hopefully don't fully understand (this comes with time), is that you are so oooovvvvveeerrr it:) They should also be careful if it can be proven that they are lying, that written libel does not need proof of damage (use it, that usually shuts their traps up fast, if you care enough to shut them up).