Lessons Learned in 2020

It’s December 23rd and I took the day off from work. I’m looking forward to a nice five-day weekend. In a year that has forced us to be chill, I find myself facing the holidays with an unusually relaxed state of mind. Our normal extended family gatherings aren’t happening this year and we’ll be celebrating in a much more low-key way. Our three kids and their significant others will be with us for Christmas Eve dinner and presents. At least that’s the plan. I just caught the weather forecast and it sounds like our so-far brown December is coming to an end today with anywhere from five to nine inches of snow expected to fall before morning. I just pray the roads are clear enough for the kids to get here safely tomorrow afternoon. If not? Well it won’t be the first holiday we spend apart this year. But I really, really want to be with my kids this Christmas and I’m not sure I’ll handle it so well if things don’t work out. I know I really have nothing to complain about though, and I’ll do my best to handle whatever may transpire without feeling too sorry for myself.

Still, while I wait to put this year in the rearview mirror, I’m reminded – not for the first time – that I have it pretty good. And I keep thinking that this time is meant to be teaching us something, leading us somewhere better. As I face a not-so-normal Christmas, I realize I’m not that upset about it. How many years have I caved to the pressure of pulling off the perfect holiday only to lose sleep and stress out to the point that I end up ruining it for myself? So often the beauty and meaning of the season is totally lost on me. I love our extended family in all of their wonderful, albeit sometimes quirky and maddening ways, and I look forward to when we can celebrate all kinds of occasions together again. But maybe taking a step back this year isn’t such a bad thing.

This year has pulled back the curtain for me on all the ways the people of this world still haven’t grown up (myself included). I realize how naïve I’ve been and recognize that injustice of all kinds is ages old. It’s not somewhere out there in the faraway places of the earth, but right here in my own back yard. I’ve become hyper-aware of how little progress we’ve made in taking better care of each other, or sharing our abundance with those who have less. As I continue to anticipate brighter days ahead, I hope for less selfishness and greed, and a much kinder, gentler, compassionate population of people. It may just be that I’m getting older and typically realizing I don’t actually need everything I’ve always thought I did. But the added benefit to this state of mind is it makes me want to give back more, and more often.

My family has been very fortunate throughout all that has transpired this year and that fact is spotlighted every single day with the constantly dire news of all that is going on in the world. We’re all still working and have stayed relatively healthy. Those we know who have contracted the Coronavirus have managed it and recuperated. We’re lucky, I know. And It makes me want to help in whatever way I can. I’m trying.

Jack and I “adopted” a couple of little girls, ages three and six, through a local childcare center. Their mom has had a hard time this year and their grandmother had charge of the girls for a while. Grandma provided the girls’ Christmas wish lists and nothing on those lists was in the least extravagant. We were able to get everything the girls wanted and needed plus a few extras. We also added gift cards for Mom and Grandma so they could purchase groceries and necessities. The director of the daycare center thanked us profusely when we dropped everything off. And she emailed later to thank us again, telling us how Mom cried when she picked up the girls’ gifts and received the gift cards for herself. One of the girls has Celiac Disease and apparently Mom had been forced lately to go to the food shelf in order to feed her family. She had found it nearly impossible to find gluten free items, but the gift cards would allow her to stock up on those foods for a while. Jack and I were both hit hard by this mom’s reality and we’ve talked about making monthly donations to the center so that maybe we can continue to help ease her burdens and those of other families like hers.

The elderly are always on my heart as well, especially this year. Like my own mother-in-law, so many are confined in senior living facilities with limited or no ability to be with loved ones. My mother-in-law is a trooper and always seems to have a positive attitude. She loves to sit and watch the Game Show Network so she easily passes the hours. The staff at her place takes good care of her and she enjoys their daily stops to administer medications or bring meals. She’s got six kids and many grandchildren and receives multiple phone calls a day. It’s not ideal, but at least it’s something. As much as I miss my own parents, I often feel grateful they aren’t here to suffer through this with the health issues they had. It would have been devastating for them. How many people are alone now with little to no outside contact? It weighs on me, and so I found an opportunity to do a small thing about it. A local senior residence offers remote volunteer opportunities. I signed up, spending the past couple of weeks writing letters in Christmas cards to residents who could use a little holiday cheer. I wrote a bit about my family in each card and inserted photos of Lucy Pie. (I hope my cards find their way to some dog-lovers!) In addition, I went to the dollar store and bought all of the large-print crossword, word search, and sodoku books I could find, as well as some games of checkers that might help my “friends” pass the time. Finally, I topped it all off with bags of Christmas candy for the staff and any residents who are allowed. Like our gift-giving efforts for the little girls, the endeavor for the seniors made me realize that I could be doing something all year long and not just during the holidays.

This year will soon come to a close, and while I know 2021 isn’t going to magically erase all the darkness that has hovered during 2020, I hope the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day. I will strive to rise above the weight this year’s events while remembering just enough to maintain a softer heart and a spirit of generosity to others. May we all!

Christmas 2015

I just sort of wanted to get through Christmas this year. Not that I was dreading it, or anything. I’m typically a serious Christmas enthusiast. I was just feeling a bit sad, last-minute and worn out this time around.

Still, Christmas came, as it always does. And somehow it was good. Seems my dad’s passing has allowed me to really put things in perspective and let go of expectations. Kind of sad how it took such a significant loss to make me see what was really important.

We took my mom to an early Christmas Eve mass at her church. My brothers and their families joined us. It was a poignant service. As I watched the priest and deacons, I kept remembering the many times I’d seen my dad perform those same rituals. I was feeling overwhelmingly sad for a while, until I imagined my dad sitting next to me, holding my hand. I felt a calm come over me and all was well.

Afterwards, my extended family all came to our house to eat and celebrate. There’s not nearly enough room here for all of us, but it’s never stopped us before, and no one really seemed to care.

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I have a mess of pictures, but this one seems appropriately representative of the evening. My mom, surrounded by her family, all of us just enjoying the simple and silly things.

The days have been frantic and fast-paced this past week, and I was tired going into Christmas Day.  We went to a brother-in-law’s house and celebrated with Jack’s very large extended family. There was a sense of camaraderie there. Jack and his siblings lost their own father this time last year. A sister-in-law lost her step-dad just weeks later. A nephew-in-law lost his dad recently, just days after my dad passed. We’re all getting used to a new, and not altogether welcome sense of normalcy. It helps to know I’m not doing this alone.

The Christmas Day festivities were loud, but there was much laughter and cheer. We ate ourselves silly. Big “kids” played new games with little kids. Conversations were animated. There were no cross words. I got to spend time holding my favorite baby, our great-nephew, who is just mellow and adorable.

A friend and I were exchanging comments in reference to my Christmas albums which I posted on FaceB00k this morning. She said she was thinking of me and I replied I was thinking of her as well. She lost her mother earlier this year, and it seems her dad is not long for this world either. I said that it had been a challenging year for many of us, and she responded, “But I can’t call it bad. It’s just life.”

I realized that I had to agree with her. We’ve reached that age, some of us, where having to part ways with a parent or loved one is an inevitably more common occurrence. There is sadness to bear, but if we’re lucky, as I have been, much grace as well. As I told my friend, I am grateful. It was a beautiful Christmas.