So here's what I've learned (and it's only taken me five Christmases to figure it out...): Christmas Eve is probably always going to suck. I will wake up with a heavy heart and won't be able to shake the melancholic mood until necessity forces me to put on a happy face at my in-laws' house later in the evening.
But eventually the Christmas spirit (or what now passes for it) will worm its way in, and as the evening progresses my smiles will become genuine and my laughter will feel as real as it sounds.
And wine will help smooth out the rough edges and blur the inevitable sad moments just enough to make it impossible for me to see them too clearly.
And it's okay. It's okay to turn inward and recognize my pain, then move it gently aside and enjoy whatever moments of joy might happen to come my way.
Sorrow needs to be acknowledged. Not indulged, necessarily, but certainly acknowledged. Because it's there. And it ain't going anywhere.
We, the bereaved, spend an inordinate amount of time trying not to be bereaved. And all it does is make us feel guilty and useless when we can't seem to shake the sorrow. Because sorrow cannot be shaken. Period. You can't outrun it, out think it, or out manoeuvre it.
Accepting that things cannot be what they were and allowing ourselves the luxury of feeling our real feelings without shame or guilt is the best gift we can give ourselves at Christmas - and the best hope we have of feeling something besides sorrow once it has been given its due.
I just hope I remember this lesson, which took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out, next year.