By Corinne Wnek
Overheard at the mall this weekend: “I want new Uggs for Christmas, Mom, and not those knock-off ones because they’re not good. I could also use a new Coach bag and, oh yeah, a navy blue cashmere sweater. And you could tell Aunt Janice she could get me a gift certificate to Sephora. Okay?” All this from a girl who couldn’t be more than 15 years old. I wish I had expensive taste like that when I was in high school. I was just thrilled to get the new Rolling Stones or Beatles album for Christmas.
One of the nice things about finishing holiday shopping early is that you get to relax and actually enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas. Some of the sounds, though, I wish I didn’t hear, like that conversation above. Because the truth is that, while many of us are busy jingle belling ourselves through this time of year, for others this is the season of sadness. No bell could ring merrily enough to ease their pain.
A former student of mine, who still keeps in touch with me, hates the holidays. Ever since her father disappeared in the collapse of the World Trade Center, the holidays have become a reminder of irreplaceable love, sudden loss and a past way of life. Her mother still takes her and her sister away for a quiet few days together, just until Christmas passes. Then it’s okay again.
Another student of mine will spend his Christmas helping his mother around their small apartment as she tries to regain her strength from the effects of recent chemotherapy. I don’t think he’s thinking iPods or Xboxes. For him, Christmas will be joyous if his mom just feels better.
Yet another student I know, whose family fortune can rival that of a Saudi king, gets despondent around the holidays. For him, school is interaction with friends and teachers who he knows sincerely care about him. In school, he is validated and visible. But at home, he hardly sees his parents who are busy traveling all over the world on behalf of business. “I can’t remember the last time my father came to one of my birthday parties”, he confided to me. Big dinner parties for clients and philanthropic balls just don’t cut it with a high school freshman. He wants Santa to bring him real parents and a real family life on Dec. 25.
And then there is the student I found sitting in my office crying a few days ago. She began to tell me that over the weekend, her parents announced that they were divorcing and reconciliation was not an option. “Now it’s going to be two of everything,” she said. “Two Christmas visits, two Thanksgiving dinners and awkward visitations on the weekends. Nothing will ever be the way it was before.” She’s bright and she’s right. During times like this, all a counselor can do is listen to the pain.
Then there are adults I know who will also have a hard time getting through this Christmas holiday. Someone I have known for over thirty years lost her husband quite suddenly a few months ago. A first Christmas, or any important date that leaves one chair empty at the table, is the hardest to get through. But there’s no choice, even when it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Note to Santa: Send a lot of love, hope and peace to these people when you pass by New Jersey on Christmas Eve.
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