“The holiday season contains joy and adversity; may we all appreciate the changing tides…”– Dan Millman
I’ve been trying to find the words to describe what this time of year is like for me and I am so grateful to have come across this quote. Joy and adversity: two opposing emotions; sometimes parallel to each other, at other times intersecting– like waves in the ocean.
Holidays. Traditions. Family. Joy.
While I honor that Christmas is ultimately the celebration of Christ’s birth, as a mom to a three-year-old and four-year-old it’s impossible to not get caught up in the tradition of Santa Claus. This is the first year Emilia and Samantha are grasping the folklore and there is so much joy for me and Ray in seeing the girls’ excitement build in anticipation of his arrival- from picking out our tree and decorating it, to being surprised by the lights Ray hung outside the house (the girls call it “our Christmas house”), and to finding creative ways for our Elf on the Shelf, “Goober” to make his presence known while the girls do their best to stay on Santa’s “nice” list. Hearing them discuss how “Santa is very busy at the North Pole with all of the elves” is sublime on so many levels. The most important– this is the first holiday season in which they are consistently engaging with us and each other since their diagnoses. Joy. Joy. And more joy. Emilia put in her request for more dinosaurs and a dinosaur park, Samantha for more Calico Critters and princess costumes. Ray and I are living for the moment on Christmas morning when they’ll see that Santa delivered.
Holidays. Traditions. Family. Adversity.
For those who have lost close members of family, it’s impossible to not feel the pangs of adversity when the holidays roll around. It’s the time of year when families gather, with heartstrings intertwined in the traditions and memories of holidays past. I’ve felt these pangs every Thanksgiving and Christmas since losing my dad in 1998, and more so after losing Sergio in 2001. In those early years I huddled close to my mom and Sergio’s mom, riding the waves of Grief Ocean on a battered boat, seasick with the thought of the empty chairs at holiday dinners. Thankfully time and change calmed those waters, and since meeting Ray there have been so many more tides of joy. The boat has been patched by the love of new additions to our families, and we continue to build on the foundation of past traditions. Even so, thoughts–“if only he could be here to see how much our family has grown” or, “this was always his favorite time of year”— quietly roll in on waves of nostalgia.
This particular holiday season the tides of adversity have been a lot rougher on our shores- it’s the first without Ray’s mom Sally, who lost her valiant battle against breast cancer earlier this year. While I only had the pleasure of knowing Sally a few short years, I called her “Ma” and spent almost every holiday with her since Ray and I were engaged in 2005. My heart aches for Ray, his siblings, the grandchildren, and Ma’s extended family, who have known a lifetime of holidays marked with her presence at the table. If words were enough I’d go hoarse in an effort to take away their pain. Instead, I can only offer an empathetic ear, prayers of comfort, and the gentle reassurance that the intensity of their grief will subside over time.
My heart also goes out to several close friends, and all others who are navigating their own tides of adversity–whether through death, illness (e.g. Alzheimer’s and dementia), or divorce– the loss of those we love is the greatest, and nothing else is as certain.
Knowing this, Ray and I are doing our best to ride the waves of joy this season, grateful for time spent with those closest to us who are here. In murkier waters, we are holding our sorrow gently, reminding ourselves that we hurt because we love, and giving air to the grief through crying or by simply saying “this shit sucks”. We continue to build on tradition, even when there is pain in doing so. When putting up our tree a few weeks ago, we reveled in Emilia and Samantha’s delight as each ornament was unwrapped, and buckled in sadness as we topped the tree with Ma’s star. In spite of that sadness, grief has taught us that faith and time are the balms of healing, and we imagine the day when the girls are old enough to place the star on top of the tree themselves– with joy in their hearts and a twinkle in their eyes, they will affirm
“That’s Grandma’s star…”
May we all appreciate the changing tides…