I can easily understand why people find the holidays distressing. Christmas has always been my favourite holiday. I usually get a great charge out of trying to find just the right present for everyone on my list. I make mincemeat and Christmas puddings to give as gifts. I always enjoyed cooking with my mother and setting the table and decorating and Christmas-fying our house. And yet, I also remember most every Christmas day ending with my feeling let down. After all the work and the anticipation, it was over so quickly and I was always left with the feeling of wondering “Is that all there is?”
Every year I talk to myself and try to remember not to get too wrapped up in the preparations and not to expect that this year it will be different. Every year, I seem to forget and get caught up in the hope that this year will be stellar and that there won’t be any sense of let down for me. And every year, I am left feeling disappointed and alone and lonely. So, I can understand why this time of year causes such stress for so many people and why so many people decide to leave this plane of existence.
Yet, even as I write this, I know that this year has been different for me. At the end of the day, and feeling the usual let down, I realized that I had changed in a very significant way.
I’ve tried for the 20 years that it’s been since my mother died, to enjoy my family and to, for at least this time of year, feel connected to them. And this year, I have finally accepted that I can not do that any more. I’m done with trying to like everyone in my family and to buy into the story that we really are all in this together. I’m done with being the one to travel to be with my family. I resent the implication which I feel that it is so easy for me to do that – or at least easier. And yet I know that this is something which I have imposed on myself because I have believed that we were supposed to be together at Christmas.
I’m done with listening to people tell me to relax when I’m feeling crowded and let down. I’m done with feeling watched while those around me wait for me to ‘go postal’. I’m done with feeling that I have to guard what I say and what I do so that everyone else has a happy holiday season. I’m done with feeling that I have to be mature and grown up and all that dreck. And I’m done with paying homage to the voice inside my head which has always told me that I’m being silly – that what I’m feeling isn’t important so why am I expending energy on it.
This year, I’ve finally realized that I need friends and family of my choosing in my life. My ohana is the family that I need more than the family of my biology. So I’ve been considering who do I feel is my ohana. The word ʻohana’ is Hawaiian. It means ‘family’ in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related, adoptive or intentional members. The people in my ohana are bound together and cooperate and remember one another. They are caring and non-judgmental. They don’t expect others to measure up. They don’t withhold approval. There are no strings attached to their involvement with others in their lives. I know that acknowledging those in my ohana is not something that I take lightly – that it is a very spiritual and sacred idea which is I do not take for granted.
So who are the members of my ohana?
My best friend is first. I’ve known her for over 58 years now. She’s closer to me than my sisters are. We can talk about anything. And I know that she will always tell me the truth. She doesn’t play mind games with me. And we can be serious together and still always remember to play.
A fellow teacher whom I met through gymnastics is part of my ohana. He is such a caring person who takes time to listen. He is supportive and funny. He truly embodies what it means to be a gentleman because he is truly a gentle man. I may not see him a lot during the year but we are still in contact and we enjoy each other’s company.
My oldest sister is part of my ohana. Less than a year ago I don’t think I would have been able to write this and know that it is true. And I know that she will always tell me the truth and that she will always be her authentic self. I enjoy her spirit and her company.
This sister’s husband is part of my ohana. He is steady and kind. He takes time for people. And he has a very subtle but wicked sense of humor.
There are several people whom I have met through programmes I’ve chosen to engage in over the years who I consider to be part of my ohana. One of them may be about 26 years younger than I am but I know that we are twins. All of these people listen without side or agenda. And they are genuinely themselves. They all are seeking to continue in their personal evolution. And in their presence (both real and wireless), I know that I am more.
One of my nieces is someone I consider to be part of my ohana. She’s interesting and interested in the world. While the connection sometimes feels a bit tenuous, I am reminded, by her presence, to be myself and to speak my truth.
I have few friends in this city even though I’ve lived here for over half of my life. That being said, there are a few people who I have met while I’ve been involved in different activities and who I consider to be part of my ohana. We have great conversations. We enjoy each other’s company. They are all people who genuinely like and enjoy others.
I have two sisters, two brothers-in-law, three nieces, and one nephew. If I extend that a bit further, two of my nieces are married and one has two children of her own. That is all the connection that I have through biology to this world. And through my ohana – the family of my choosing, I have a deeper and fuller connection to this world.
We, none of us, have any choice in who our family members are. We rarely get the family we need and want. We do get the family dictated by biology or legal circumstance. And, to be able to have my ohana – the family of my choosing – makes my life so much better and richer. What a world we could each have if we gave ourselves permission to choose our family! It is something which I believe we can all consider for ourselves: how would the world of each of us change, how would each of us evolve if we had an ohana? Something to think about.