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What Christmas means when you don’t have a family

Flickr photo by Heather

What Christmas means when you don’t have a family


By Luke Grayson

Growing up, Christmas break always meant going to church and spending time with friends and their families. Christmas meant remembering the family I  couldn’t be with, because I was a foster kid.
Regardless of what happened, Christmas was never a happy time for me. Most were spent away from my siblings, many in a hospital room, and all of them from age 4 to 17 were spent away from both of my parents and any extended family.

Every family that I was with somehow all belonged to the same church, so my only constant was that. I was more than involved with my church. It was more of a home for me than anywhere else, so I spent as much time as I could there: all three weekend services, youth group during the week, leadership meetings, and some days I would even just sit there and do homework. Outside of school, if you needed to find me, odds were I was in the building helping with something.

Christmas services just meant that I could be there more, help more, see my friends and brother while school was out, and get out of the house that I likely hated. Christmas meant needing a distraction from the fact that it was Christmas and that nearly all of my peers were spending it with their families and would come back to school beaming about their holiday.

In 2010, two days before Christmas, I lost my brother — the only constant person — the only person that I knew understood what I was feeling and dealing with at any given moment.  From then until now, I have dreaded the approach of the holidays even more than I did before. From then on I had to mentally tell myself that it wasn’t really almost Christmas, and usually I slept through it and ignored all forms of communication with anyone. This year was no different, I turned off my phone, disconnected from social media and my friends, and only went to work.

The one thing that was different this year though, is that I went to a Christmas service for the first time since I ran away at 17 years old. And even though I have been going to this church for almost a year now, I had to stop and breathe before I could convince myself to walk through the doors and it was another couple minutes before I could walk into the sanctuary.

Holidays have gotten simultaneously easier and harder to deal with. On the one hand, I live on my own now and only do things that I want to, including only speaking to my biological family members that are supportive. On the other, it’s a reminder of what my life used to be like, what I’m still missing at 21 years old, and the family that I have lost over the last five years.

I still dread every upcoming family-oriented holiday, still have to mentally prepare for days before I can even remotely handle them. I still tense up walking into church some days, and I still have to remind myself that I am welcome there without condition.

As much as I feel like I’m the only one still struggling to feel safe in a church after everything, I know that I’m not and I know I’m not the only one that dreads the season.

Luke Grayson

About Luke Grayson

Luke Grayson is a 20-something nonbinary transperson who has been in Spokane since 2012 and is an advocate for the LGBT community and for transgender youth.
He is currently helping raise kids and trying to make schools more inclusive and accepting of transgender youth. He is also attempting to help make the local community more inclusive of both the LGB and transgender communities.
Luke is also a slam (performance) poet who went to Atlanta for National competition last year as a part of a team representing Spokane.
Luke uses he/him or they/them pronouns.

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  • Tracy Simmons

    Thanks for sharing this story with us Luke.

    I have fun Christmas memories from when I was a child, but haven’t spent a holiday with my family in a very long time because I’ve found myself orphaned now as an adult. However I’ve found a new family! One that is loving and accepting and year after year I’m making new, happier memories with them. The joy of adulthood is that you get to choose your own clan and have some control of the memories you get to create. My hope is that you get to do the same, starting with New Year’s 🙂

    • Deb Roth

      Is there one or two things that a”foster grandma” could do to make a foster kid feel ” loved”? Is there something that would make at least a small difference?

  • All I can say is I am so thankful that you found our church, because we are the ones who are blessed by your presence there. You are helping to make the world a more loving place for the LGBTQ+ community, and I pray that God continues to surround you with loving family, though they may be family-of-choice rather than family-of-birth.

  • Brad Thompson

    I always treasured the holidays, the time spent with family. Even after more than a few negative holiday experiences–after losing a loved one to suicide just before Christmas, after being stabbed repeatedly at a Christmas party, after (worst of all) gritting my teeth to avoid political/religious arguments with my father and his new wife–still, I looked forward to those gatherings. Of course, I never realised how much I treasured them until a few years ago. I had a young transwoman staying with me (she had no place else to live), and I brought her home for Christmas; it didn’t seem right to me that she should spend the holidays alone. It thuns out that was more than my family was willing to bear; I was told that it would be better for everyone if I just stopped coming home, and I haven’t been back since. This year, I spent Christmas sitting on the couch, watching television I didn’t really want to see and playing DOOM on my laptop. For the first time in my life, I did nothing at all in observance of what was and remains my favourite holiday. Well, that’s not exactly true; I endured, I survived. I did my level best to distract myself long enough so I could justify crawling back into bed. I know I have the option of building new traditions around a new family, I just don’t know how. And I doubt I’ll ever find the inspiration to figure out, which saddens me beyond measure.

    • Debbie Selzer

      Brad – I could not tell if you were new to Spokane or have been here for years. I know that there are some very welcoming and inclusive faith communities in this area that could be very healing for you if it was the right match. I hate to hear how alone you feel. I don’t think you have to pressure yourself about building these new traditions. It can be slow, I know. It is amazing how just one or two key people entering your life can make a difference in the positive connections that can form.

      • Brad Thompson

        Thank you. I’ve actually lived more than half my life now here in Spokane. And the truth is, I did once find a church that was very welcoming, and I was heavily involved in it for many years. Unfortunately, that community was destroyed by what in retrospect seems to have been a clash of personalities between our priest and our bishop, and having seen the ugliness of those political machinations firsthand I now find it difficult to trust a new faith community. It’s something I hope to change, but putting myself out there is daunting, and it’s always easier just to stay home. Still, one of my goals for this year is at least to visit the half dozen or so churches that are within easy walking distance of my home and really give them a chance. Of course, that will likely have to wait until the sidewalks are less slippery…