Twenty-two years ago this coming Christmas Day my thirty-two-year-old younger brother, Gordon, suffered a massive heart attack. His wife was at work and he was home alone with their two sons, aged six and eight. The boys raced to the neighbors for help. Gord died on Boxing Day.
It was a very emotional and stressful time. I remember soon after having to go into a store to buy something. Every nerve within me was ultra-sensitive and near the surface. A young woman came over and asked me if I needed help finding something, I looked at her and no matter how hard I tried to stop the burning behind my eyes—the tears burst forth. That poor woman had no idea what she was dealing with. I was a mess. I apologized and left.
I want to talk about this now because it serves as a reminder that the season of Christmas magic and joy isn’t front and centre for everyone. There are many walking around with gaping fresh wounds, experiences, and memories that you can’t see and know absolutely nothing about.
Don’t get caught up in the ugly of Christmas by being petty, nasty, or rude because you don’t know who you’re dealing with and what baggage they’re carrying.
I have a friend who’s daughter died in a tragic accident two years ago. Lisa, a beautiful young lady, had her whole life ahead of her yet circumstances stole her away far too soon. How does a parent reconcile that type of reality? The pain and grief are as real today and the mourning continues on a daily basis. Lisa’s favorite time of year was Christmas and her absence has left a painful void for her loved ones to deal with. Let’s face it, nothing will ever be the same again and the devastation of the situation can’t be explained away. I want you to know that this reality is one my friend carries with her every single day. She works in retail and deals with customers all day—I wonder if you’ve met her?
Remember, behind the smiles and the greetings there can be pain.
Last week, I went to a Christmas party with a friend who had to force herself to go. Initially, she felt too exhausted and didn’t know if she could find the energy to “put on the face and act the part.” She lives with chronic pain and depression. This is an invisible reality that’s all too common and we forget that others who appear completely happy and functional would like nothing more than to curl up and crawl into a corner. Christmas cheer doesn’t change that.
There are single parents working two jobs trying to make ends meet. They’re often the ones in the service industry making minimum wage while doing the bidding of the (sometimes demanding and demeaning) customers. These workers could be panicked because they know a big heating bill is coming in January or they’re worried about daycare costs. I’m sure there’s one working at your favourite restaurant. Do you know which one?
There are so many distressing things in our world and they all touch someone to some degree. Whether it be a chronically ill child, an elderly parent with dementia, or poverty—just to name a few. These brutal realities are being dealt with by people we encounter everyday in society.
I’m not here to lay a guilt trip on anyone—that’s not what this is about. We all instinctively know that strangers around us have other lives than what they present. I want this message to serve as a reminder, and a request, for you to actually see them.
Please embrace and enjoy your Christmas traditions, your family, and the season as a whole but when you’re out and about—whether shopping, dining, driving, or just being—remember to be kind because you don’t know what that stranger is going through.
That will make my Christmas merrier and I hope yours too.