Dealing with Holiday Emotions

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My Holiday Emotions: We all have them. We all experienced them deep within us, whether it is good or bad it’s our holiday emotions.

Of course over the years these emotions change depending on which memories we elect (subconsciously) to keep inside when the holidays come around. How we deal with them will make our future holiday memories.

I always loved this time of the year growing up in New York.  I enjoyed the cold air creating frost on the windows, the tantalizing aromas from the kitchen when my Grandmama baked her delicious holiday treats and sometimes snow on the ground creating a “White Christmas” atmosphere.

Back then I noticed people going out of they went out of the way to be nice to one another. Our family was tremendous and I got to see just about everyone on both sides of the family, great uncles, great aunts, second and third cousins from all over the tri-state area. Everyone was in good spirits creating my happy holiday memories. Even the Christmas specials on television were big extravaganzas filled with happy and lovable moments that touched me deep molding my personality. It was easy to see why, as a child, this was a very special time, the greatest time of the year.

(Italian Zeppoles  – A sugar doughnut Free Recipe at the end)

That was the way things went until my Grandpapa passed on. Then little by little year by year, it became a little less of everything. The family gatherings became smaller, the holiday treats became more commercial, and soon the traditional Christmas holiday season as I knew it, lost that special time of year feeling.

Not long after that special feeling diminished, I experienced my first extreme tragedy. It happened 2 days before Christmas in 1970. As a teen I had many friends, probably a hundred or so, but there were only four friends I considered like a brother and a part of my family, John Ventimiglia, Doug Baker, Paul Phillips, and Joe Velto.

John Ventimiglia summer of 1970

Here is one story about John Ventimiglia I can remember very vividly Christmas of 1970. That year a group of us went door to door Christmas caroling. Not just anyone, we had the best singers from The Brentwood High School Chorale, NY State’s best that year. We drove to the rich section of Bay Shore and John Ventimiglia knocked on the front door, our queue to start.  The looks on the faces of the people who answered and their reaction, you hear things like “Martha come quick, you got to see this.”  I played the guitar while they sang and made the most beautiful sounds I ever heard. I was in awe and the high from those sounds brought back that old, “Special Time of the Year” feeling.

John and I spent the next couple of days together putting the final touches of our latest song, we were writing, “Dreamin’ My Life Away”.  We completed the song on December 23, 1970, a cold and snowy day with blizzard conditions. That date will be etched in my heart and memory forever.  I wanted John to stay at my house for dinner but he said he needed to go to work. He left my house to go to his supermarket job at Shop-Rite on Sunrise Hwy in Islip, NY. I was unaware that he never made it. His car skidded from the on the ramp of Sunrise Hwy to the opposite lane in a fatal head-on collision. He was pronounced dead an hour or so later at the Southside hospital emergency room.

That evening after John left, Paul Phillips and I went to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. The roads were nasty our car skidded all over the road. When I came back home and arrived at my front door, I paused and started to stare at the door knob. I got a disturbing feeling that something bad had happened. While I was staring at the door, it opened and my mother was standing there screaming something about how she was worried sick about me. Without a word, I knew something bad had happened to John. She mentioned John’s name and I replied with, “I know he’s dead” without being told. From that moment on my life changed and I was never the same. I tried to keep my emotions hidden away from the people I love because for the next several years I dreaded the holidays wishing and hoping they would not arrive.

Without any word, his family moved away. A neighbor, another Lenny, saw me at the house and came over to me. He said, “They moved out of state and wanted me to give you a message. They’re sorry but couldn’t bear to see me anymore.” I bought back too many sad memories for them, which hurt me as much as losing John.

I know I am not alone and once we reach a certain age we all experience a loss of a loved one. We all react differently and our emotions are handled in many different ways. I am still very sad when I think of John, especially this time of year, the anniversary of his passing which changed my life forever. When I lived in NY, I routinely visited his grave, especially during the Christmas season. It gave me comfort to be there to spend a half hour or so talking to him about my life giving him an update.

John was one of my inspirations for, Lonely Christmas, a Christmas song finished on his first anniversary in heaven December 23, 1971.

How I dealt with my loss

1- Positive Thinking

When I start to feel sad, I quickly change my thoughts to the good times we shared. I will never forget you John no matter how many years pass. I soon began to realize I was blessed to have John as a close friend. Although I am sad when I think of him and the loss that December evening, I thank God John was in my life.

2- Grieving is OK

It is normal to grieve and the holidays seem to magnify this feeling.  I quickly revert to # 1 knowing our time on this earth is limited, and we need to make the most of every single day. I talked about how the death affected me to close friends, and it seemed the more I talked about it, the less pain I felt.

3- I expressed my emotions openly

I changed from keeping my emotions hidden to opening up and again the pain became more bearable the more I released my feelings.

4- I watched others grieve

I learned by watching how others dealt with their emotions.

5- I learned to change my sadness into pleasant memories

Switching attention is a critical life-long skill we all need to practice and develop.

6- I allowed time to express my emotions

I released my emotions through my music, writings, and painting.

7- Religion

When I was losing the battle and control of my emotions I talked with the priest at my church. Although the story never changed, and John was still in heaven, I felt stronger emotionally.

I hope my story helps you deal with your story and holiday emotions!

Italian Zeppole Recipe
Ingredients:

  • Oil for frying
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 375 degrees or in skillet.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Stir in the eggs, ricotta cheese and vanilla. Mix gently over low heat until combined. Batter will be sticky.
  3. Drop by tablespoons into the hot oil a few at a time. Zeppole will turn over by themselves. Fry until golden brown, about 3 or 4 minutes. Drain on a paper bag and dust with confectioners’ or regular sugar. Serve warm.

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