It can be hard around the holidays if you are hurting. So much of the season is focused on celebrating happiness that, if part of your heart is sad, the unrelenting jolly-ness can be exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I have many things to be happy about, but keeping the sadness at bay is not easy amidst the candy canes and Mariah Carey songs.
Today I saw this cute thumbnail photo of Maddie under Heather’s post:
I made the unwise decision to click on it and was taken to a post Heather wrote in the days after Maddie’s passing. Reading it immediately transported me back to that horrible time – to the crushing pain, the disorientation, the thoughts of ending it all. I quickly X’d out of the window, feeling sick, and wanted nothing more than to walk around the rest of the day wearing a scowl….
…but no, no, no. I mustn’t go there, I told myself. This is the holidays. People will be wearing Santa hats, ringing bells, and wishing me a “Merry Christmas.” Kids will be laughing. My moodiness will have to wait.
So wait it did, until Christmas cards came in the mail featuring the smiling faces of kids Maddie knew. I looked at these beautiful children as I imagined a four-year-old Maddie on her own Christmas card, and again I started to feel a weight pulling me down…
…but no, Annie was calling for me to watch “Frosty the Snowman” with her. I had no time for sadness, not when Annie needed me to cuddle with her and laugh along at the magical world on TV. There will be other holiday shows to watch this season too, like “Elf” and “Christmas Vacation,” the latter of which my family and I have watched every year since it came out…
…including our last Christmas with Maddie, when she snuggled up against me in her seasonal onesie and laughed along:
Yup. It can be hard around the holidays if you are hurting. It really can.
You know the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with its melancholy melody that doesn’t seem to fit its cheery lyrics? Well, there’s a reason for this incongruence. The song’s original lyrics were every bit as sad as the melody:
“Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,
Next year we may all be living in the past…
No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.
But at least we all will be together, if the Fates allow,
From now on we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
Over time people knocked off the song’s edges and pushed away its sadness. The lines “It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past” became “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.”
People re-wrote this Christmas standard not because the original lyrics were bad, but because they want this season to be a celebration of joy, love, and happiness. And, when you see how excited and full of wonder kids get this time of year it is hard to disagree. So, like the song, I will knock the edges off and push away my sadness… even if, like the song, there is an undercurrent of melancholy hidden among the joy.
we must be on the same wavelength.
Beautifully written x
Hey, just a correction – it wasn’t “people” who changed the lyrics, it was the original writers of the song! They felt it was too dark and melancholy for the scene in the movie (Meet Me in St Louis) they had wrote it for, so they changed the lyric during filming. I love the movie and the song, so I wanted you to know.
I do know how hard the holidays can be, I lost my sister a few years ago, and my niece now lives with me, it’s hard to be joyous and happy, when I know she is missing her mother and I am missing my sister. I try to focus on happy moments and let my niece talk as much about her holiday memories as she wants. We’ve also incorporated some of their traditions into ours. And we hang some of my sister’s special ornaments on the tree.
I wish you lots of love, hugs, and peace this holiday season and I do hope you do have yourself a Merry Little Christmas with that lovely family of yours!
Yeah. This. I too love the movie and the song, so I’m glad someone else knows the story too. According to a behind the scenes I saw once (however accurate it may be), Judy Garland actually said “I can’t sing this to her” -meaning Margaret O’Brien- “people will think I’m a monster.”
I am struggling this holiday season but its not over a physical loss but an emotional/relationship one. Its so easy to get caught up in the melancholy of it all but I agree, I’m going to push through and enjoy the absolute joy that is my five year old. He is my heart and I will show him the true beauty of Christmas as much as I possibly can!
I was thinking about you and Heather earlier today and wondering how that was, missing Maddie/Annie’s Christmas. Personally, I think the original lyrics are better suited to life. Because Christmas isn’t just about the jolly but also the mourning those who’ve gone. Forced festivities be damned, it’s okay to have a mixture of both emotions. *hugs to the Spohrs*
My family’s church used to do this service in the afternoon the Sunday before Christmas called “Blue Christmas.” Rather than the usual joy! and! happy! and! light! of the Christmas season, it focused on loss and remembrance and gave people a quiet time before the actual holiday to reflect and feel the sadder parts of the season, instead of sweeping it under the rug. And while I’m sure that sounds super depressing, I participated in the service several times and found that it was – uplifting. More than pretending not to feel anything sad ever could be.
I’ve also always really liked “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” because, even in the state it’s in now, it’s always felt to me to be a song about having a Christmas when things are hard. The idea that this year, it’s not a good Christmas, but next year, it’ll be better. Friends’ll be around and troubles will be gone and we can rock around the Christmas tree and the whatnot. That kind of hope is a lot about what Christmas is about, that the pain will fade and we’ll find peace. It’s a good song, I think, for that.
I’d like to concur with this posters sentiments. Sweeping emotions under the rug because you’re supposed to be happy only plugs up your sadness allowing it to build under pressure. Instead, set aside some quiet time to express your grief; it’s okay to do so. Holidays ARE hard for people who had endured great loss, even of you allow your sadness to flow for an entire day or more, in the end it’s cathartic. It doesn’t feel that way at the time, but I assure you that’s it’s part of healing.
Lovely post. I am so sorry for the pain you must always carry with you.
On a barely related topic, I’m actually a relative of the songwriter, Hugh Martin, whose song you mention here. The song was originally written for the MGM film Meet Me in St. Louis, and before Judy Garland, the film’s star, ever recorded a note of it, she asked for the lyrics to be somewhat less melancholy. So while the lyrics you cite are in fact original, they were never recorded nor changed “over time” but rather, were changed almost instantly and the original draft you quote here never saw the light of day (or passed Garland’s lips.) The only other significant change from the Meet Me In St. Louis version came when Frank Sinatra recorded a version of the song and asked for the “muddle through somehow” line to be changed. (That line makes sense in Meet Me in St. Louis as it is sung during a scene in which Garland is consoling her little sister about an upcoming move across the country.) So that line became the now more-famous “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,” which Garland herself wound up singing in later versions of the song.
Anyhoo: just thought you might be interested to know that the rougher edges of this song only existed for a nanosecond before they were changed. Maybe it says something that they never really got to exist in their own right– even all those decades ago, people just couldn’t bear to see sadness during the holidays.
Much love to you and your family.
That is fascinating! Thanks for sharing.
That is so interesting! Thanks for sharing this history!
i know you have maddie right there, in your heart & in your head, during every holiday….every day. this was a beautiful, sad post….maddie’s photo is so sweet….seeing her smile is heartbreakingly beautiful.
peace to you and yours.
Mike, I’m so sorry. I think the holidays are a very bittersweet time of year. We celebrate with the ones we love and we remember the ones we love who are no longer with us. All of my grandparents passed away at or on Thanksgiving or Christmas. I know that’s not like losing a child, I cannot even imagine the depths of your loss, but it does always make me sad at this time of year. I, like Heather, love to go crazy at Christmas, so I try to push away the sad memories and focus on my love for those I’ve lost and the happy times we had together–at the holidays and year-round.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is a melancholy song, as is “White Christmas” and several others. It’s just the nature of the season, I think. Some are harder than others. They aren’t all joyful. The best we can do is make the most of the moments we have together with our loved ones each day, every year. I hope you and Heather hold on to the special memories you have of Maddie at Christmas and make new memories with Annie this year, as I know you are. *hugs*
The holidays are definitely harder when you’ve had a loss. My father passed away 9 years ago and he’s still on my heart and mind during the holidays, especially now that I have children. As much as I try not to it’s difficult not to dwell on how different Christmas morning would be if he were still here and how much he would have enjoyed his grandchildren. But I do try to put on the smile and show my children the joy they deserve, even when my heart aches through it all.
Thanks for sharing this, and for the reminder that the holidays aren’t always happy–even when you’d desperately like them to be. The most important thing is to let yourself be the person you need to be. The people who matter will understand.
Beautiful post. Beautiful said. Beautiful Maddie.
Thinking of you, Heather and Annie during the holiday season.
My brother in law decided to commit suicide a little over a week ago. Finding happiness has been very hard as I talk to my sister about all the ugly details that are still needing to be taken care of. I snuggle her kids as we play wii games and I keep thinking of how unfair it is to them. I read this and I realized that I need to be better about taking off the edge and being happy because that is what the kids need and honestly, it is what I need too! Thank you for sharing! Through this whole ordeal I keep going back to the post on here about how everyone grieves different and we all just need to be tolerant and understanding of that. It has helped a lot. Once again Thank you for sharing, something that helps many others.
For the past five years, I’ve struggled throu this season, faking it till I try to make it for my kids. And while my loss was profound, it doesn’t compare to yours. One of my best friends, who is experiencing her second Christmas without her mother said to me yesterday, let’s be happy, and we’ll get through this season. So to you guys, I say, I’m praying for your happiness. And we’ll all get through this season.
Beautiful post, Mike. I hope that you do manage to find some joy in the season, although I can imagine how hard that must be. Let Heather and Annie be your shining lights and Maddie the eternal light in your heart.
Katherine Smith says:
Thanks for this post. I lost my husband very unexpectedly Nov. 17th but have a 5 year old daughter so I have been constantly torn between my grief and my daughter’s need for a “normal” Christmas.
I agree with you – holidays are hard especially when you are hurting. Faking it works at times but the hurt is still there. I always question myself why holidays and anniversaries are so hard when my sons are gone every day. I don’t know why those days are just harder. Sending you all hugs and peace. Take care.
OOHH Mike!!! I’m so sorry you’re hurting as much as you are & I’m even more sorry you feel like you can’t or shouldn’t be. In my humble opinion….it’s totally okay to feel sad. Now having said that, I sincerely hope you can find some joy in the season but at the same time, you and Heather lost the one person who was the important person in your life at that time. Maddie was such a light and brought just so much joy. The fact she’s not here to celebrate this Christmas with you & your family is so unfair and cruel. It breaks my heart.
The very first thing that captured me when I first came upon your blog was how LOVED and ADORED this baby girl was. It was so easy to see how your & Heather’s faces just lit up in pictures with her and the pride you both felt being her parents. You guys were so passionately in love with your little girl when she was here, I would quite frankly except nothing less with her sudden passing.
So my friend, as the days fall into Christmas I will not only hold Maddie close to my heart but you & Heather as well. I will continue to be here as your friend to offer you both my friendship and support and on Christmas morning when there is a break from the total madness, I will think of you all with both happiness and sadness.
Holidays have been so hard to enjoy through the last several years since my Dad passed. It seems so unfair for us to be sitting around laughing and enjoying ourselves without him there. He was the laughter during Christmas, he was the fun, jolly guy in the room that was full of conversation and good stories.
It was only after I gave birth to my youngest daughter in 2008, a few years after he passed, that I actually could smile and enjoy Christmas again and actually mean it. I didn’t realize how much happiness she would bring and how she would breathe such life back into our family again.
I think of your family all of the time and have been a dedicated reader since the day after Maddie passed away. I know how bad my heart aches for my dad especially during the holidays. I would never say my grief is the same as yours or Heather’s but I know that I will grieve for my dad the rest of my life and it seems like, at times, that it never gets easier. One thing I do know is that my little bright and witty girl sure does make it seem that way.
Maddie was so loved, by so many. Those of us who never even got the wonderful chance of meeting her.
It breaks my heart that you and Heather are having to endure such sadness. I wish I could make your hearts whole again.
Please know I will be thinking of your entire family this holiday season and I hope your Annie helps you breathe a little easier on Christmas day; but even if you have your private moments of reflection and feel the heaviness in your heart, we’ll all be thinking of you and your Maddie Moo and hopefully that will help to lift you up. She will never be forgotten.
Merry Christmas Mike!
Thinking of your family during the holidays and every day.