How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad) for the Holidays

“Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.” 
― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

I am a man composed of several controversial opinions: I am not staunchly opposed to pineapple on pizza, I am still bitter about Best Picture-winning films from 5+ years ago, but quite possibly my most contentious would be my disdain for the thirty-some day period between mid-November to January 1st, otherwise known as “The Holidays.™” 

Before you cast me off as a grump, a Grinch, or just another entitled millennial, I will say that these feelings aren’t rooted in faux-anti-consumerism, or a desire to be difficult for the sake of appearances—in fact, this is something I rarely publicize.

The encounters and relationships that we have with other people can help us see God in many different ways; you just have to know how to look. I found God through a very unexpected relationship with someone. My six foot six uncle, Michael Santy. Like me, Mike had a tumultuous life, especially in his younger years. But my uncle Mike was resilient. He kept on living. Although he was not a devout Catholic, he believed in God silently. My uncle Mike taught me so much about faith without us ever even having an actual conversation about God.  To me, Mike was an image of God. The way he overcame his painful youth, reconciled his relationship with my grandfather, went to graduate school in his fifties, completely altered his lifestyle amidst his battle with diabetes, and rebuilt himself after the sudden shattering death of his girlfriend of ten years, my aunt Sharon. My uncle Mike taught me everything about faith, about resilience in the toughest of circumstances.

On November 23rd, 2011, the day before Thanksgiving, my father received a phone call from Mike. That day, Mike had just returned from a doctor’s appointment, acute leukemia—cancer—the same thing that led to the death of my grandfather and his father before him. A disease that’s taken 5 other men in my family.  

Conglomerated on our living room carpet, members of my family wept and consoled each other while I sat adjacent and untouched as the tears managed to escape. The doctors gave Mike six months. I was crushed by this news but tried to maintain a sense of optimism, just as he had exemplified in the past. A decade prior, my grandfather was given six months, but he lasted almost three years. My uncle Mike was a Santy, he was strong, he could make it.

All I can say about the next day at our house was that it proceeded the only way it could have, with monotony and just enough withdrawal to allow ourselves to project an appreciation for the holiday.

Day three wasn’t as picturesque. As day broke and the morning light began creeping, I awoke to the dimmed outline of my father standing in the doorway of my bedroom. “Uncle Mike is being admitted to the hospital. They don’t know what’s happening but I’m going to Vegas to see. Do you want to come?” He said with the stoicism that I have always admired in my father amidst the chaotic climates that were somewhat regular in our family sphere. My brother was immediately on board for this impromptu exodus, but for reasons which I am still grappling with today—I declined. If you’ve ever felt that sickening sensation, the one that erodes through your stomach lining whenever the words of something you regret saying echo past across your lips, then you know exactly how I felt at that moment.

As I proceeded about the quiet morning, my stomach which normally pined for a breakfast-worthy helping of leftover pie ached for a different reason. I spent the remainder of the day with my mother who, as she has always done so masterfully, strove to quell my anxieties and coax impending fears.

Then impending fear metastasized into seemingly-apocalyptic grief.

At around 8pm, the world in which I had once felt very familiar with ended as I received the call from my father. A few sorrowful breaths foreshadowed the words I knew would follow.

“He’s gone.”

For many, death anniversaries spurn the overwhelming desire to crawl into the abyss of our bedsheets, as anything more would be far too much. Yet in the cases of those who have lost someone on or near a holiday the desire isn’t all that feasible.

Seven years have passed and not much has changed in regards to how I “celebrate” Thanksgiving: I wake up; a few hours pass before I forcefully remove myself from my bed and towards the remains of the day.

I stopped posting about him on social media after his one-year-anniversary. It felt wrong to muster “Likes,” “Reacts,” and consolatory comments from mere acquaintances. I became so tired with celebrating the memory of a man who I knew I was never going to see again. So at a point I stopped celebrating.

This Thanksgiving, I am trying. The opportunity to prepare a meal for my community-mates has presented me with the challenge to get out of bed, to cook a meal that I’ve never prepared before, and to put every ounce of my ability into being thankful for it all.  

So here I am—trying. Trying to be happy (or at least less sad) on a holiday. If that’s not growth, I’m not quite sure what is yet.

-Jack Santy (Current CKSC Member)

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