Impact – Wealth Management


Christmas is Ruined (Part Two)

Growing up, my favorite family tradition happened every year on Christmas Eve at my Grandma Helen’s house.  My grandma embodied Christmas to me.  And then it all changed.  Christmas was ruined.

Christmas at Grandma’s House

Each year on Christmas Eve around 5:00 p.m. the family started gathering at Grandma’s house. Almost nothing kept us away from Grandma’s on Christmas Eve.

Most Christmases there were more than 20 of us all crammed into Grandma and Grandpa’s doublewide trailer house. There was barely enough room to move around. Folding chairs lined the living room, and everyone fought for the comfortable chairs.

Grandma always cooked a big feast. We had all the traditional dishes and Grandma always wore an apron that she would take off only after dinner was done and the dishes were cleaned up.

Pictured Above: That’s grandma in the middle with her apron on, and me on the right wearing a shirt that matched my little sister Melissa’s. The house was too small to stand back far enough to get everyone in one frame. I’m guessing this is a little more than half of us. Check out the Christmas cards taped to the walls

Before supper we set up card tables in the living room. Once the card tables were set up, wherever you were in the house, you were pretty much trapped unless you crawled under the tables or walked on the couch. The adults all sat in the dining room and all the cousins sat at the card tables.

Grandma didn’t have a dishwasher so after supper all the dishes were done by hand – usually by a couple of the aunts while the men and kids sat in the living room and joked around. I remember my grandpa taking out his false teeth and singing songs in a silly voice and my uncles telling slightly inappropriate jokes… we laughed until our sides hurt.

When everything was cleaned up, the moment I waited for all year had arrived…

Grandma went into the den and brought out a box of candles, small round homemade drip protectors, and very worn-out song sheets. This was before computers and copy machines, so someone had hand-typed each of the song sheets one by one.

Everyone got a candle and a song sheet. Then we turned off all the lights and sang Christmas songs by the light of the Christmas tree. Many people in my family were great singers.

Some of the songs we sang (like Silent Night and Oh Holy Night) were so beautiful with 3- and 4-part harmonies. And some of the songs were hilarious with people substituting words for funny lyrics or singing the typos on their song sheets.

If we got too silly, my grandma would raise her voice and tell us all to behave.  This moment of my year made me feel all the feels. I loved my crazy quirky family.

After the singing it was time for presents.

The thing about Christmas at my grandma’s was, it wasn’t about the presents.

In fact, my grandma gave terrible gifts. It was about being together – sharing stories and laughter.

After we opened all the gifts, we cleaned up the wrapping paper and the dads went out to start the cars. When I was little, I was usually starting to fall asleep about now. If I was sleeping when it was time to go my dad would carry me out to the car. I remember how cold it was when we went outside, but how cozy the nice warm car was as we made the long trek home from grandma’s.

Christmas truly was the most wonderful time of the year.  I felt safe and loved, surrounded by family and lots of Christmas cheer. All through high school and into my adult years, Christmas was magic. Filled with the familiarity and security of tradition.

Christmas is Ruined…

Then in 2005, my grandma passed away.

In 2006, my mom and dad separated and later divorced.

I had no more traditions. Christmas felt empty.

Instead of Christmas being my favorite time of the year, I actually dreaded it. I dreaded it because I couldn’t ignore the sad path my life had taken.

In all the thoughts I had ever had about my future I never even considered it possible that my strong, stable family would be ripped apart by death and then divorce.

Instead of feeling surrounded by love and family at Christmas I was suddenly reminded of the betrayal I felt. The brokenness of everything that used to matter most to me.

As a young mom I felt guilty because I wanted Christmas to be magical for my little boys, but I just couldn’t muster the magic. I know it sounds dramatic, but I didn’t know if I would ever really enjoy the Holidays ever again.

The most important ingredients of my recipe for Christmas joy were gone.

I struggled through 2006, 2007, 2008 trying to make the most of the season — and then, in 2009, a snowstorm of epic proportions was predicted to hit on Christmas Eve – we would be stuck at home. I was feeling like it was going to ruin what little bit of Christmas spirit I had.

A New Recipe for Christmas Joy

I was depressed. I complained to my good friend and coworker at work one day. She, too, had been going through some family changes. Instead of trying to remake the old traditions she challenged me to start completely new family traditions. She shared with me the fun things her family used to do on Christmas.

Her family’s traditions were COMPLETELY different than mine… in fact they were so different that for a minute I thought “that doesn’t seem like Christmas at all!”… but it did seem like a lot of fun.

I decided to give it a try.

On Christmas morning there was only one present for each boy under the tree. On that present there was a clue to where their next present was hidden. They were excited.  In a matter of minutes, they were running all over, hunting for their next gift. The Christmas morning scavenger hunt was a hit.

2009, the year I thought that all hope was lost, became the year the new Hofer family traditions were born. A complete change was exactly what I needed.

Trying New Recipes

14 Christmases have passed since our new traditions were started. Mason is now nearly 22 years old and is still planning to come home for the Christmas Scavenger hunt this year.

Getting through the holidays after profound loss can feel impossible… like trying to make your favorite recipe without all the ingredients.

It just won’t ever be the same.

Instead of trying a lot of different ingredient substitutions and being disappointed time and time again when the recipe doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to try a completely new recipe?

In 2009 I tried out a new Christmas recipe and it changed everything. I wish that was the last recipe I would ever have to try. I wish that I would never lose the “ingredients” for this recipe.

But life changes over and over again. As my boys enter adulthood and create families of their own, they probably won’t ALWAYS come home on Christmas Day to hunt down presents. Eventually I will have to start looking for another new recipe for holiday cheer.

It will be sad in a way. Change, even good change, can be hard. I will grieve the loss of a wonderful period of my life. And then I will celebrate raising two little boys into two fine men. I will focus on the future and creating new traditions once again.

If you have gone through a profound loss this Christmas, take time to reflect on the beautiful memories you had before the loss… and then consider trying a new recipe for the future.

Merry Christmas and happy baking!

P.S.  You may be thinking “I thought I came to a financial blog.  This post has nothing to do with finance.”

You’re right, you did, and it doesn’t.

As financial advisors, we’re present with our clients through happy times, like the birth of new grandbabies and the creation of new businesses.  But we’re also there through the hard stuff… like divorce or the death of a loved one.  Our passion is helping people navigate the financial aspects of life – to plan for and illuminate the path forward.  But we’re real people and we care about more than just the money.

So rather than try to awkwardly tie money into this story somehow, we’re just going to let this story be what it is and hope that you find some encouragement from it.

Impact Wealth Management LLC is a Registered Investment Adviser. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Impact Wealth Management LLC and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. This website is solely for informational and educational purposes and is not meant as individual financial advice.