If you’re feeling heartbroken this holiday season, I hope hearing about my worst Christmas (and New Year’s) offers you some comfort, support and lightness. You are not alone.
Everyone has blue Christmases. That's life. I remember Christmas 2003 being hard, and so was 2006 come to think of it, but the one that most definitely stands out as the absolute worst was the holiday season of 2010.
My engagement to a man I had loved deeply had just ended abruptly, and I was spiraling in my grief. I was grieving the loss of my relationship, my home, and all of the plans and dreams we had. I was also grieving the fact that I was months away from turning 30 and I felt completely overwhelmed by the idea of having to start my life all over again. I'd been through a big breakup before, so I knew I had a hard road ahead. But first, I had to survive getting through the holidays.
Although there is never a good time to feel heartbroken, I believe holiday breakups can be some of the most difficult. There is just something about the spirit of the season that makes heartache that much more painful. Now I know not all breakups are created equal, so just to be clear, the kind I'm describing here is the devastating, gut-wrenching kind; the kind of deep heartache that the saddest of the sad love songs are written about. Including, the song that inspired me to write this article, "Blue Christmas."
This afternoon, I was home preparing for Christmas. My real little tree was lit up, the holiday radio station was playing in the background, and I was wrapping up some gifts. Then, as I was humming along to Elvis' rendition of “Blue Christmas,” I had the sudden realization that it was exactly four years to the day, on the Sunday before Christmas in 2010, that I had moved out just weeks after my broken engagement
That last weekend before Christmas when most people I knew were busy running around the city taking care of last minute Christmas errands, I had spent the weekend taking apart the home that we had so thoughtfully created all ALONE because I had not wanted to impose on my friends or family. I went room by room, leaving the bedroom for last, crying every step of the way. It was absolutely awful, the kind of experience I wouldn't wish on anyone.
At one point, I had called my parents hoping that hearing their voices might help me feel better. My dad had answered the phone, and in a cheerful voice asked me how I was doing. What? I was shocked and said, "Um, well, I'm ... I'm terrible actually. I'm moving out this weekend. Did you forget?" Without answering, I knew he had and I was so hurt that I blurted out, "Why does no one get it? I feel like I'm going through a divorce!" There was nothing to say after that and I could hear tears in his voice as we said our goodbyes which only made me feel worse. Looking back now, I think my parents who have been married for over 40 years simply couldn't relate to what I was going through at the time.
The week that followed did not get any easier. On Christmas Eve with my family, I remember putting on a brave face and telling myself I just had to get through this day without breaking down. I didn't want to ruin Christmas for my family, and I especially did not want to break my parents' hearts with my sadness. I remember there was no mention my ex-fiancé, but the ghost of our relationship felt present. There was an heartbreaking moment when I realized the table had been set with one too many settings. I removed the extra plate without a word, blinking back tears. We used to be a family of 9, and now we were 8.
My ex-fiance and I did exchange Christmas wishes via short texts that evening. Although it felt like the right thing to do, to wish the man I had planned to marry, as well as his family that I adored a Merry Christmas, having that brief communication only made my heart heavier. There were several times throughout the evening when I would steal a private moment in a bathroom to collect myself. I would take a few deep breaths to calm down, and tell myself everything was going to be ok.
It was definitely one of the hardest evenings of my life.
As if getting through Christmas isn’t hard enough, the fact that it's followed so closely by New Year’s felt absolutely cruel. Even on a good year, New Year's is a holiday that naturally stirs up a wide range of emotions, including those of melancholy - quite possibly the worst ingredient to throw into the mix of a broken heart. Breakups can make us crazy and the way I rang in 2011 is proof I was struggling with my new reality.
That said, I now look back with mild amusement, remembering how I danced the night away in a little dive bar in Korea Town on a third date with a magician I’d met online. Yup, that’s right, I got right back out there, telling myself I was ready to date when in reality, I was so desperately to mask my pain. Definitely not the healthiest way to deal with a grieving heart but it was all I could do at the time to tolerate the deep loneliness I felt. Let’s just say I could have greatly used a breakup coach, if I had only known they existed.
FAST FORWARD - 2014
Four years later, it's fascinating to reflect on how far I've come since that Blue Christmas of 2010. With the passing of time I now have the luxury of perspective and I can appreciate the many precious gifts I received that winter. In addition to discovering my calling - to help the broken hearted - I discovered my own resilience, and learned to love and take care myself. I can appreciate now that the unraveling of my engagement broke me open, and was the perfect catalyst I needed for my life to come back together in a way that I now would not trade for anything. Thank goodness for that blue Christmas!
So, should you be having a blue Christmas of your own, it is my sincere wish for you that you may find some peace, hope and maybe even a little joy this holiday season. Your heart will heal, and life is still beautiful.
How am I doing now? 7 years later...
A few months ago, when Scott Simon asked me in an interview on NPR, "So, how are you doing now?" I was somewhat surprised, but I realized that naturally, due to the nature of my work, people are often curious about how I'm doing now after so much heartache.
After my recovery, I went on to date a lot for many years - 88 first dates infact! Until two years ago, when I started dating an incredible man who adores me unconditionally, and we are still together. Happily building our life together.
I'm wise enough now to know that I don't know what the future will bring, so I am grateful for where I am now and cherish the love that is in my life. It is now my mission in life to help others through their transitions, and to find love after loss.