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Lost ornaments ruin Christmas for Mom

DEAR AMY: My ex-husband and I lost our home and subsequently separated. While things were peaceful between us, he rented a storage unit that stored everything we had in our garage -- camping gear, mini fridge, old furniture, etc., and most important (to me) Christmas decorations. This collection contained many special handmade ornaments from my children over the years. Things went sour between us when he stopped the payments on the unit and we lost everything to auction. I did not learn about the loss until several months after the auction was held, so there was nothing I could do at that point to recover any items. I have since lost the desire to celebrate Christmas. I have no desire to put up a tree or decorate. Even though it has been five years since all this happened, the thought of Christmas brings me to tears. The holiday season is very depressing and I no longer look forward to it. I want the holiday season to bring me joy again, but I don't know how to get it back or what to do. Any advice would be helpful.

No Christmas Spirit

DEAR SPIRIT: The holiday season is struck through with moments of sweetness, but for very many people, it is tinged with sorrow, sadness and the kind of genuine despair that is so beautifully captured in the Frank Capra film "It's a Wonderful Life." Because, as you know, sometimes life isn't so wonderful; sometimes life is reduced to trying to move forward with the knowledge that you have lost all of your treasured goods in a storage unit auction.

These Christmas treasures are symbols, reminders and stand-ins for the relationships in your life, and the thing about Christmas is this: If your relationships are good, nothing else really matters.

You don't say where you stand with your children, but I hope you are able to spend time with them. If not, maybe this Christmas you can mark the five-year anniversary of your loss by turning the page and trying something new. Get a tiny tabletop tree. Ask a friend to help you decorate it with paper chains or popcorn, drink some cocoa and then go for a walk together. You will have to piece together a new way to feel joy -- through sheer determination -- and then make it your own.

Christmas is also a great time to tap into your own generosity. Even when you are at a low point, holding someone else's hand in comfort can help you to feel powerful, compassionate and alive. I hope you can find someone to comfort (and commiserate with this season). If you do, I think you'll feel better.

DEAR AMY: My daughter is pregnant and her mother-in-law wants to have separate showers instead of one larger one with both sides of the family. Should we be inviting her to ours? She and I are not close at all. We are politely friendly.

Showered with Questions

DEAR SHOWERED: "Politely friendly" is the perfect way to succeed in an in-law relationship. Good for you! May you be politely friendly forever more.

Of course you should invite your son-in-law's mother and other close relatives of his to your daughter's shower! Every family operates differently. Some are strongly "exclusive." It's not necessarily personal, but more a reflection of how they see their clan.

If you are a "one and all" family, it would be great to try to fold in your son-in-law's clan. Then you might move a little beyond the politely friendly stage and into this next phase of your lives as grandmothers.

DEAR AMY: Teenagers really do want limits -- but also need to save face when they feel pressured. We had a code for our kids' requests to do things or go places when their friends were around. It was how they would word it: "Mom, is it OK if I go to...?" Rather than, "Mom, can I go to...?" If there was an "OK in the query, we knew they didn't really want to go, and this was their way of wanting a NO response from us while saving face. If there was no "OK" in the request, we knew they really DID want to go. This worked well. I highly recommend it.

A Dad

DEAR DAD: I like it.

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