When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves...
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And the most traditional. Which, if you fall outside the confines of what is considered traditional, can feel a little difficult.
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All those 2.4 family ads. All those songs about people having the time of their lives. Although special mention should go to Boots for their Christmas ad this year, which could be seen to suggest a single-mother and daughter relationship.
The worship of familial bliss at this time of year though – of the traditional – can feel like a sledgehammer if it’s not your reality.
Make your own tradition
So why not make your own traditional? Your own traditions to go with your new reality.
When things first fall apart, striking up new traditions out of the void that's been created gives a sort of scaffolding to life. Habits that will prop you up when grief is exhausting, but you can’t (or don’t want) to just give in; to take to bed or stay on the couch.
Doings that first force you out into the world, and which then quickly inject joy back into your life.
It is our tradition to… is a means of saying this is our way of doing things. And in knowing your way, you are strengthened.
You are re-establishing who you are.
We are people who go for a Friday pretzel every week in Starbucks. Who do Saturday movie night and an annual back-to-school family afternoon tea in The Westbury.
People who host birthday breakfasts for the family at our house. Who treat ourselves to Thursday night Bombay Pantry takeaway when too tired to cook. Who go on an annual trip to the Pavilion for a show and pizza afterwards with friends. Who go to our cousin's house for dinner on the first Tuesday of every month.
Traditions, habits, fallbacks. Call them what you will.
Rituals really. A way of framing the new life.
Helping you find your path
One of the most frustrating things about grief is how it steals up on you some days and zaps your energy. You can see your life on the other side. Only yesterday you were perfectly happy. You want to get back to it, but you’re simply too tired.
Traditions can be a way back. The smallest habits can create a path back in.
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We don’t necessarily do them every week. But they are there for us to fall back on when we need. A self-created net.
A routine can be helpful to keep a person going when one is swamped in grief. Traditions are the next level. The insistence on joy, regularly. The icing on the cake.
Creating traditions, and the repetition of them, is grounding.
Through a time of stress, you may not realise it, but you are not grounded. You are up in your head having arguments, or flying from one to-do-list item to the next, or keeping busy trying not to think; whirling in anxiety, tensing in stress.
In the trenches of a crisis, it is not always within your power to ground yourself, to make things calm, using just your own mind. Sometimes you need to look outside of yourself. For people, or things, that can help you settle. Traditions can do that. Built-in breaks amongst the stress.
And life falling apart isn’t all bad. Rebuilding can be quite enjoyable.
Establishing your new traditions is part of building your new life. Setting out your stall. Saying (to yourself really, more than anyone else), this is how we do things. This is who we are. We are a different unit than we were, but we are solid, and this is our way.
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We eat roast chicken on Mondays; chicken and noodle soup on Tuesdays; and we have carrot cake for birthdays. You are making choices about how your life will be now, rather than chaos and stress being in charge. It is action rather than reaction.
I am nothing if not influenced by celebrities on Instagram. Anne Friel, also separated, does a yearly holiday with her daughter, just the two of them.
I plan it as a future tradition for us. For now, we have our days out together, where we head into town, just the two of us, and do the same thing each time; Milano, art gallery, Merrion square playground, lift home from Granddad. Afterwards, I always arrive home on a rush of happiness.
You make your own traditions, but then they reflect back to you how lovely your life is.