Christmas pieces on the emotional side of this season often tip toward Christmas as a trigger for depression, or recommendations to go find someone who is suffering more heartache than you are and help them, which is fine advice, but right now, let’s do something different. Let’s run through a few favorite Christmas movies and see what they might have to do with grief and loss. And with encouraging a few laughs.
It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart depicts a small town man who dreamed of a bigger life, but remained home to diligently run the family business while others got the glory in the wider world. Beset with disappointment, he considers suicide, until he learns through a nightmare experience what the town would have been like without him. He had lost his wildest dreams but gained gratitude for the life he lived, and enjoyed the appreciation his friends expressed for his life well-lived. The rest of us may not have had a Clarence the angel appear to us, but many of us recognize the moment when despair after loss turns to gratitude for what remains.
The Ref with Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis and Denis Leary was hailed by friends who are movie buffs as the funniest film ever. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s definitely at the opposite end of the spectrum from Wonderful Life. A warring couple is held hostage Christmas Eve by a wrong-doer eluding capture. When the guests, who all have their own issues, arrive for dinner, he poses as the couple’s therapist and is driven nearly mad by their hostility for one another. Conflict escalates. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but lessons are learned and what looked lost turns out not to be. Anyone who has hit a relationship bottom will feel right at home.
Maureen O’Hara, a young Natalie Wood, and an old Edmund Gwenn star in Miracle on 34th Street, the movie that asks the question Is Kris Kringle for real (and the related question of whether you should tell your child that Santa isn’t)? And can you expect a happy ending after loss? Single mom works hard to support her daughter, and encounters a department store Santa who seems more real than not. The Macy’s parade helps sort that out, and the handsome neighbor, well, you can imagine. Days of struggle and pain often have a payoff.
In Mixed Nuts, Christmas Eve unfolds as Steve Martin runs his crisis hot line populated by a band of outliers played by Madeline Kahn, Garry Shandling and others. An eviction, a stuck elevator, a threatened suicide, and a captured serial killer bring them together by the end of the night. For all the losses and dysfunction, community wins out in the end. If these folks can band together in support when it’s needed, the rest of us should take heart that we can too.
Add in The Christmas Story (tongue sticks to frozen flagpole, bullies are defeated), Love, Actually (romance blooms as 12 couples dash around seeking love), and Home Alone (on Christmas Eve, family mistakenly abandons young son who turns out to be highly resourceful).
As Christmas approaches, you may be looking for some ways to push back against the longing and sadness that tries to roll in. So, pop some popcorn and try one of these out. As always in grieving, we have choices to make, and some of them can involve a few laughs.