Thestrals and the Holidays.

I loved the Harry Potter books. I ALWAYS pre-ordered the next in the series, and every year, I’d “prepare” for the next book by re-reading the prior version at the beach down the Cape, where my aunt and uncle, my godparents, used to vacation.

It was one of my favorite traditions.

Books are my escape. When I read a good work of fiction, I’m am never aware of reading the words. I see it happen, in my head. Coming out of a book for me is akin to being woken up from a deep dream; it takes me a lot of time to shake off the experience of the book and come back into my real life.

Getting unbroken time to read, these days, is rare.

So I have such fond memories being on the beach, with the white noise of the waves, the salty tang of the ocean on my tongue, immersed in a whole other world – it was one of my favorite places to be.

And it was where I read in horror as Cedric Diggory died.

And then, a summer later, Harry could suddenly see the creatures that pulled the carriages from the train station to Hogwarts.

Thestrals, Luna Lovegood tells him. He’s not crazy – only people who have seen death can see them.*

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I started my first blog in 2006, and I found a community of women out there who were just like me. Back then it felt like we were all connected; I met some of the people who have become my soul sisters.

And I KNOW things change, but lately I feel like everything you put online has to be perfect; the perfect recipe, the perfect Elf on the Shelf setup, the perfectly staged selfie.**

There’s so many voices out there, so many people showing off how perfect their efforts are… it can be so isolating to be surrounded by Perfect sometimes.

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For a lot of years, I justified not allowing myself to grieve over my cousin’s suicide. Because, I intellectualized, my grief wasn’t as valid as my aunt’s, or my cousins’ – they lost a daughter, a sister. I felt like I didn’t have any right to attach myself to her death because my pain was nowhere CLOSE to theirs.

I played the pain olympics a lot, too, when we were trying to have a baby. At first, I’d say, at least we hadn’t been trying for 2 years – wow, that’s a long time! And then, when we were going on year three, I’d tell myself we had it good because at least I didn’t lose babies. And then, when I lost babies, I told myself that at least we had Owen, because wow, there were so many people who wanted a baby and didn’t get one.

It’s taken me a really long time – a lot of pain, a lot of struggle, and finally a lot of accepting the validity of my emotions – to realize this.

Death and loss comes in all different forms.

Not just losing people to death – like Harry did with Cedric, or my aunt and cousins did with their daughter and sister, or I did with pregnancies.

Loss can be also about the death of your dreams, too. Losing the dream of getting married, or being a mom someday, or having as many children as you dreamed of, or saving the world, or making a difference in someone’s life, or playing basketball for Duke, or being rich and famous… it’s loss, no matter what the dream is.

Loss is loss. Period.

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Christmas is supposed to be the best wonderful time of the year – the songs say so. The pictures on Facebook say so. The stores tell you buying more, more, MORE will make Christmas the best time of the year. I feel like I’m surrounded by all this noise – perfect people doing perfect things and having perfect Christmases.

I should be, too.

And, of course, I AM enjoying my Christmas season. I love writing my cards out, listening to holiday music, relaxing in front of the tree with eggnog, playing Santa, seeing family and friends and spreading the proverbial Christmas cheer. I found the VERY BEST version of a Christmas song (which: I didn’t actually like this song until I listened to these guys do it. Go check it out – seriously amazing. I’ve been listening this on repeat on a daily basis).

But it’s NOT perfect. There’s also loss in there, too. I miss my aunt, and I grieve that it’s been almost 20 years since we lost Amy, and I feel the sting of broken dreams when I hang up three stockings on our bannister, instead of the four we had hoped for.

So for me, what I see on social media perpetuates this idea that maybe I am the only one who feels this way. Because around me so many people are baking cookies, decorating gingerbread houses, and playing Santa far better than I am. Happy, HAPPY! my Facebook feed screams at me when I log in. HAPPPPPPPYYYYYYYYYY!!! NOW WITH EXTRA SMILEY FACE EMOTICONS!

It’s not until I have conversations with people or read blogs that I hear about the loss, too. The friend who is still mourning the loss of his mother. The friend living childfree who is reminded at Christmas that she wanted a very different experience. The friend with a newborn who is mourning that nursing didn’t go the way she had wanted. The friend dealing with uncertainty of an IVF cycle and whether she’ll make her son a sibling. The friend who struggles every year with buying presents because money is hard to come by. The acquaintance whose 5 year old daughter with cancer doesn’t have much time left with them. The parents who lost their children a year ago to devastating violence at the elementary school. The victims of the Boston marathon bombings, who lost their old way of life and are having to forge a new life for themselves.

It’s not just me.

Loss is everywhere.

And that’s what we need this Christmas – a reminder.

We’re all in this Being Human thing together. What we see on social media is life PR – life the way we WANT it to be. But real life is messy and chaotic and full of complications like loss and grief.

So for those of you who are struggling with this holiday season – for whatever reason – and feel like you’re alone?

You’re not crazy.

I see the thestrals too.

*I never understood this. Didn’t Harry see his mom die in front of him when he was a baby? So why couldn’t he ALWAYS see the thestrals? Probably me taking things too literally – and yes, I’m aware that it is a work of fiction that has to do with wizards and witches, so there IS some relinquishing of reality which must go on. But still.

**My good friend Mel wrote about this too. Worth a read.

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