It’s that time of year, again. The return of the season that marks the end of our year long trek around the sun. Though if we wanted to be pragmatic about it, we could say that every day is a closing to the year that began exactly 365 days before that. Every day is a celebration! But this one is official, it changes our calendars, and our slates are figuratively wiped clean. We begin anew.
Yet, before we get to that point where we click restart, we have one major holiday to manage. Christmas. The one we celebrate on December 25th, but if commercials and retail are to believed, it starts in October. For months we listen to music, view the window decorations, embrace the lattes of the season.
Growing up I loved Christmas. It was magical to me, even past the time where I believed in Santa. Christmas Eve wove a spell for me with the lights, the music, the special dress I was able to wear once a year. Usually it was a dress that my mother had made me. Every year we would go to church, which was exactly 2.5 blocks away from where we lived. My mother, brother and I would walk through the cold in our Christmas best. My mother would sing in the choir, while my brother and I had the awkward Christmas Eve recitations in front of the congregation. The stained glass windows reflecting the glow of the candles lit through-out the church. Ending the celebration singing Joy to the World.
Afterwards my brother and I would collect our Christmas treat bag from the church basement. Filled with peanuts, an orange, and a chocolate Santa. Then, we would begin that 2.5 block walk back home where unexpectedly Santa had visited us while we had been at church. We would open our presents under our 4 foot plastic tree, listening to the Muppet’s Christmas on Vinyl, drink eggnog, and drift off into the happy contended sleep of the innocent. It never occurred to me once that we were poor during Christmas. I felt so rich at the time.
These were my favorite days as a child. Then slowly as I grow older, the spell broke. My family, had drifted apart as many do, many not speaking to each other anymore. I began spending Christmas with my Uncle who I saw every holiday before, but as an adult he grew to be the father figure that was non-existent in those holidays as a child. Suddenly the magic began to bloom again, but not from the glow of candles in the church. But from the confidence you have knowing you are loved completely. My Uncle loved me completely. Without demand. I was his daughter, just as equally as he was my father.
Then that shattered one day in 2013 when he died suddenly. It was that year my holidays shattered too. While every year since I try to recapture that magic I felt as a child, there’s a grief in my heart that will never disappear.
The year after he died I began to see cardinals a lot. They would appear in my backyard, and in random places. Not just one, or two, but many. They don’t appear as frequently anymore, but every time I see them, I think of him. I’m not assigning any great meaning to the cardinals, but I suppose it’s the way I keep some semblance of magic. Hoping that there is something beyond this life, a consciousness, and he’s thinking of me.
This week I saw a cardinal. I was far from home, traveling for work. As I was leaving my friends house I was staying with, early in the morning at that, 6:45 a.m., a cardinal landed in front of me. It was the first one I’ve seen in months.
Losing someone teaches you coping. It teaches you to hold your breath, and it teaches you sorrow you’ve never known. It comes in moments when you don’t expect it either. One day, you’re fine, the next a cardinal flies in front of you. Grief is as long lived as you.
I celebrate him still. I have cardinals on my tree in remembrance of him. I think of him when I see others struggling through the holidays, whatever the reason. Holidays put on a false cheer for many, with the shiny objects and the bright, twinkling lights, but the grief hides in the shadows between those lights.
The holidays have taken on a different meaning for me, and it’s part of that Underdog life, too. The roads that aren’t easy, finding ways to get ahead when you’re dealing with grief, when the holidays become too much. Memories can carry the weight of bricks at the holidays.
Choose to treat each other kindly for the next few weeks. Find the friends who embrace you and your shadows. Friends will become the mortar that keep your grief from tumbling down into a pile of rubble. We can help to carry each other.
To everyone who reads this blog, Happy Holidays, from my family to yours. May we keep each other strong and help support each other for the years ahead.