Christmas Makes Me Cry

I've been listening to a lot of Christmas music this holiday season. Album after album of current and classic songs, almost to the point where they all blend together. One of my favorite Christmas albums to be released this year is Kacey Musgraves's A Very Kacey Christmas. It stands out. It's whimsical and quirky and sweet, just like Musgraves herself. She's one of the best country artists making music right now. There's an original song on the album called "Christmas Makes Me Cry." Here is Musgraves performing it:

It's all red and gold and Nat King Cole and tinsel on the tree
It's all twinkle lights and snowy nights and kids still believe
And I know that they say, "Have a Happy Holiday"
And every year, I sincerely try
Oh, but Christmas, it always makes me cry 
It's the ones we miss, no one to kiss under the mistletoe
Another year gone by, just one more that I, I couldn't make it home
And I know that they say, "Have a Happy Holiday"
And every year, I swear I sincerely try
Oh, but Christmas, it always makes me cry 
Always seems like everybody else is having fun
I wonder if I'm the only one 
There's broken hearts so there's broken parts just wrapped in pretty paper
And it's always sad seeing mom and dad getting a little grayer
And they always say, "Have a Happy Holiday"
And every year, I sincerely try
Oh, but Christmas, it always makes me cry

I admire Musgraves's willingness to acknowledge the sadness of Christmas. While the holiday season can definitely hold light and beauty, it also contains memories of the people we've lost and who are not here to share this time with us.

A few days ago, the weight of the holiday hit me. I was seized by a sudden and deep melancholy that persists. I thought about my father and felt his absence. I've spent a lot of time lately trying to avoid the pain of Christmas. I've listened to holiday albums and watched comforting films, but the sadness is always there right at the surface.

I don't have any advice or tips for coping with the holidays. I think we each find our own coping mechanisms and do the best we can. I try to focus on what I do have--my mother, a place to live, a sweet dog, presents under the tree. You have to figure out a way to hold the hurt and the love all at once.

I do remember the last Christmas with my father. Of course, at the time I didn't know it would be the last. You never do know. I have some photographs that I can't look at. I have memories that I can't dwell on because to think too much about them will make me unravel. I miss him. I want to buy him presents. I want to hug him. I want to tell him that I love him so much. I want another Christmas with him. Instead, I'll spend Christmas with my mother and I'll smile for her and laugh with her and maybe even cry with her and we will hold each other up and survive together.

Three Poems by Anna Kamienska

I've chosen these three poems from Anna Kamienska's Astonishments: Selected Poems because they have the feel of a trilogy. In the first poem, the narrator's mother is dying. In the second, the mother has died and left her body. In the third, the dead mother appears in a dream and encourages the narrator to continue living without her. These three poems take us on a journey from the time before a loved one is lost to the time after and, for that reason, I've grouped them together to tell that story of loss and grief. Death was a common theme in all of Kamienska's work; from her poetry to her notebook fragments, she wrote openly about grief, mourning, and the absence created by loss.

All three poems are translated by Grazyna Drabik and David Curzon.


The mouths of streets are silent, windows go blind,
Cold veins of tracks tremble noiselessly.
In the mirror of wet pavement the sky hangs
With lead clouds full of hail.

My mother is dying in a hospital.
From bed-sheets burning white
She raises her palm—and the arm drops down.
The wedding ring, that hurt when she was washing me,
Slips off her thinned finger.

The trees drink in the winter damp.
The horse, his cart filled up with coal, hangs down his head.
On a record, Bach and Mozart circle
Just like the Earth circles the Sun.

There, in a hospital, my mother is dying.
My mama.


She gets up, moves away from her closed mouth,
She, immobile for so long,
Walks! Steps carefully, like someone
Getting up after a long, long illness.
She walks through his forehead, through my heart,
Through another’s tangled hair. She walks — on her own.
For a moment she looks, puzzled,
At the abandoned body and, without regrets,
At us, bent in pain in a morning fog
Like roadside branches. She pushes them
Aside and departs. She fades into radiance.

If I could only believe it! But I didn’t see anything
Besides the eyes congealed with tears
And the cold indifferent hands. Mama!


“Look,” mother says in my dream,
“Look, a bird soars up to the clouds.
Why don’t you write about it,
How heavy it is, how swift?

“And here on the table—the smell
Of bread, a tinkling of plates.
You don’t need to speak of me again.
There is no me where I rest.

“I’ve passed, I’ve ceased,
It’s enough for me: goodnight!”
So I write this poem about birds,
About bread . . . Mama. Mama.

So the Dead May Finish Dying

While watching Patricio Guzmán's superb documentary The Pearl Button, I came across this scene in which Chilean poet Raúl Zurita talks about the people who were tortured and disappeared under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. In 1973, the democratically elected Salvador Allende was overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup that placed Pinochet in power. Over the next seventeen years, anyone who spoke against the regime was tortured, imprisoned, and often murdered. Zurita himself endured such violence.

In The Pearl Button, Zurita reflects on the cruelty of not giving the bodies of the disappeared back to their families and how this, in effect, prevents grieving from taking place. I was reminded of the work that Pauline Boss does on ambiguous loss, which is a type of loss without resolution, like not having the body of your missing loved one. So many families in Chile, under the Pinochet regime, were robbed of the right to bury their spouses, children, friends, and relatives. They will never know any kind of resolution to their pain and grief.

Guzmán mined similar territory in his extraordinary documentary Nostalgia for the Light. In that film he focused on women who were still searching for the bodies of people who disappeared during Pinochet's violent reign.  Both films are essential and vital works of art about violence, loss, and how the past haunts the present.

Wisława Szymborska - Everyone Sometime

Everyone sometime has somebody close die,
between to be or not to be
he’s forced to choose the latter.

We can’t admit that it’s a mundane fact,
subsumed in the course of events,
in accordance with procedure:

sooner or later on the daily docket,
the evening, late night, or first dawn docket;

and explicit as an entry in an index,
as a statute in a codex,
as any chance date
on a calendar.

But such is the right and left of nature.
Such, willy-nilly, is her omen and her amen.
Such are her instruments and omnipotence.

And only on occasion
a small favor on her part—
she tosses our dead loved ones
into dreams.

(Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak)

from Map: Collected and Last Poems by Wisława Szymborska