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Have A Happy Dysfunctional Christmas

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It was 1991 and my first Christmas in my new home after my emotionally draining divorce. We lived in a depressed area. My family was 400 km (250 miles) away. I was struggling financially with a small business, helping in the community where I could, while nurturing my four-year-old who had some health challenges. There wasn't a lot of money but honestly, nobody had a lot of money there.

Little did I know that I would get to play Santa for so many people that year. It still remains one of my best Christmases ever.

It all began when, much to my surprise, two different organizations had received my name for a food basket. I was seriously shocked. I felt grateful and touched at the folks who wanted to make sure we were OK. One had a large turkey and all the fixings while the other one had chicken, vegetables and meats.

What should I do with all this food?

The day before I had received the goodies, Debbie was telling me about her second cousin who had moved back to town into a dingy apartment with her boyfriend, a six-month-old and a two-year-old. There was no food in the cupboard and she was waiting for social assistance to kick in while she got her bearings. She didn't know how she was going to get through the holidays.

Looking at all this food, I phoned Debbie and told her to come over as I had a few things for her cousin.

To this day, I remember Debbie barging into my house to tell me the reaction of the family when she had arrived with the food hamper, to which we had added a small decorated tree and my daughter's pre-wrapped Fisher Price toys that she no longer needed.

When Debbie was emotional, she would swear like a trucker. There were lots of tears, and a ton of swearing.

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Who wants turkey?

I had kept the over-sized turkey and cranberries. That sucker was huge and could feed an army.

This was a time in my life where I had embraced my dysfunctional background and I was part of a 12 step support group for Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA). The people in this group had been my rock through my difficult previous two years.

I decided to have an open house for anyone in my group who might find themselves alone at Christmas. There were no restrictions, everyone was welcome. I mentioned that there was a huge turkey and if people could and wanted to contribute, the rest was potluck.

I was going to stuff the bird and make gravy from the drippings. Someone said they would bring potatoes, another one carrots, someone would bring green peas, and someone, who loves to bake, was bringing a large gooey dessert.

Please come!

I purposely invited Irene who had an eight-year-old daughter, Amanda. She excitedly told me that, after years of attempts at reconciliation, her brother was coming to get her on Christmas Eve to take her to a family celebration. On the 24th, I called Irene to check and once again invite her. She assured me that her brother was on his way to pick them up for Christmas. I was so very happy for her!

Christmas morning, after tidying up the wrappings, I don't know what but something prompted me to call Irene again. When she picked up the phone my heart sank for her. "Irene, it's Monique. Why are you home?"

She couldn't contain her hot tears as she explained it was all a big family joke. She was looking at all the gifts she had gotten for her family and her heart was breaking. Amanda was in her room and didn't want to come out.

"I'm on my way to come and get you. You and Amanda are coming here."

"But it's a potluck and I have nothing to contribute" she embarrassingly said in tears.

"That's nonsense" I said "I've been hoping to put your candle holders on my table all month. I could use a prettier tablecloth too, for the adult table. You have such beautiful things from your marriage, let's put them to use."

When I arrived, the memory of that hug remains imprinted on my heart.

Unexpected, last minute guests

As the day progressed more and more people showed up. Some stayed for the day, others just popped in to check out the (plastic) mistletoe and hug people they cared about.

As we were about to tuck into the dessert, Marie (I still remember her wonderful Scottish brogue) arrived with Linda in tow. The first thing Marie said to me was, "We need to use your phone."

Marie had six kids and Linda had two, but they had arrived alone. Hmmm?

Into the phone, to whichever child had answered, Marie angrily said "You thought I had nowhere to go. You thought I would stick around and let you abuse me and ruin my day. I am not coming home until you rotten kids have cleaned up that house and promise to treat me decently. I will call back in one hour to hear some heartfelt apologies and decide if I'll come home." Click.

Handing the phone to Linda she simply said, "Now -- your turn" as I hunted for two more chairs and extra plates.

I loved the look of determination on these two single moms' faces. Marie was committed to empowering herself and changing her circumstances. In the last year, she had become fearless. The joy with which she tackled life and how she dragged Linda along makes me smile to this day.

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Santa's coup de grâce

The gooey desserts and ice cream were delicious. Then I made the announcement that Santa had been there and had left another little gift for each child.

As I dug them out from under the tree I could see Amanda trying to burrow into her mother's arms. Clearly, she was convinced there was nothing for her.

When I read out her name and watched her unwrap the small bottle of Love's Baby Soft Shower Splash, I winked and said, "Santa always knows who has been a good little girl." I knew that was my best Santa trick of the day. (I understand family dysfunction all too well, so I made plans for her -- just in case.)

Full house - Full heart

In total, 22 people and a dog visited my home that day. In full view of my lighted Christmas tree, the adults ate in my office on my over-sized desk covered with an elegant tablecloth and gorgeous candle holders. The children were surrounded by snowmen and Santas in the kitchen, where nobody told them to take their elbows off the table. This was such a perfect Christmas!

I am warmed by the memories surrounding this particular Christmas and can remember every blessed detail as though it was yesterday.

What is one of your favorite Christmas positive memories? I would love if you would share it.

May this season, however you celebrate it, be joyous and filled with hope, peace and love.

Monique Caissie's strategies to empower others to stand up and take control of their personal and professional lives are appreciated by all who meet her. As a Speaker, Facilitator and Consultant helping to reduce conflict and increase collaboration, Monique draws from 30 years of crisis intervention work to help others increase their confidence to feel more heard, respected and happier. In her quest to better manage the difficult people in her life, she has studied human relations, spiritual texts, psychology and 12 step groups. If you would like her to comment on a topic, she'd love to hear from you. mc@moniquecaissie.com

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