Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

Checkmark Syndrome

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Posted By: 
Diana Gumushian

As I write this blog, I do so with a sense of anxiety, being right smack in the middle of the “holiday flurry” countdown.  You know, the rush to hurry up and do all those things you need to do, to fulfill all the wishes and demands of loved ones, to make everyone happy, to meet obligations and traditions and Hallmark card moments. It’s enough to make some people giddy with joy, while others feel like sinking into themselves and disappearing. For those in the widowed population, these feeling can be magnified immensely. 

This will be my 8th Christmas without Joe. Every year has been a different mixed bag of emotions., Whether widowed, single, married or divorced, each “status” brings with it its own set of joys and heartaches, disappointments and saving graces. For me, the one constant is the longing to be true to myself without letting others down. Over the years, my sense of what I feel obligated to do for others has changed, but I have never really mastered doing what I need or want for myself. So in the process, I sometimes don’t feel that I do a good job of either, but I always make a best effort to try. Holding myself accountable to all these standards, I jokingly refer to this as the Checkmark Syndrome.

Decorated the house? Check! Gift cards for teachers, mailman and others who should be recognized and appreciated? Check! RSVPed to invitations? Check!  Bought all the presents? Check! Purchased the Secret Santa gift my 5th grader forgot to tell me about until 9pm the night before it’s due? Check! You get the idea. I’m great at “doing” and checking tasks off the list. But I struggle with the lack of checks for honoring what I need and want, at the expense of marking off those checks for everyone else. Each year I find it more difficult to give of myself, not because I am a selfish person, but because to do so, I sometimes lose part of myself in the process. My desire to make everyone happy- the kids, the parents, the friends, the family- leaves me feeling depleted, and sometimes, resentful. I know I am free to do or not to whatever I choose, but sometimes that freedom is limited, or comes at a high cost.

I am battling myself from within. On one hand, I want to steamroller through the super-amped, over-commercialized, non-stop run around, screamingly loud and obnoxious “holiday” season and end up in January with it long behind me. On the other, I long for simplicity, and serenity, and silent moments with my children, away from all the things that pull at us. My heart aches that we don’t have a big family with lots of cousins and people to spend time with, because I somehow feel like that will fill the gaping hole left by Joe’s absence. But the truth is that it’s not the things, and stuff, and “doing” that will heal that. It’s not the checkmarks about cooking, and wrapping, and running, and celebrating. It’s the everyday, non-important, non-moments that will be remembered. I try to evaluate myself by THAT standard instead of drinking the crazy kool-aid and feeling less than when I can’t keep up with the outside standards imposed on me by others, or worse yet, those I hold myself to. I try not to live by the mental checklist that somehow creeps its way back into my mind no matter how many times I discard it. When I am tugged by all the “have to do” items, I try to ask myself which ones will really matter in 5 weeks, or 5 months, or 5 years? If it won’t, I try to replace it with something that will. And I hope to find peace with doing what I can, instead of what I should, and maybe, finally, I can checkmark “giving myself a break, and letting myself off the hook.” I hope that you can do the same for yourself.  Wishing you all peace, hope and quiet moments...


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