The holidays can be utterly joyful. They can also be incredibly melancholic.
I drove into the Thriftway parking on a recent morning, feeling a tinge of sadness. Many friends of mine have lost parents this year, and I too am in that club this year. I lost my beloved dad three months ago.
To be honest, I am Christmas-holic, but have frankly dreaded this first Christmas without him. Plus, our three grown children all live on the East Coast and I find myself profoundly missing them as the holiday season begins. I even stayed home from Winterfest this year, because it just makes me feel sad, to do these things I always did with the kids.
These thoughts of loss crowded into my mind this morning, as I tried to hold onto my Christmas spirit.
So my trip through the store was balm for my spirit — something I want to share, though knowing it does nothing to wipe away loss or grief. But it reminded me of the beauty of the island.
First, I saw Steve Hall in the butcher section. When I think of baseball, I think of Steve Hall, the long-time former coach of that sport at Vashon High School. He was always so good to our son, seeing the promise in his smiling face and treating him with kindness. I also thought of an array of other coaches and teachers who came through our children’s lives over the years in many sports, as well as chorus and musical directors. I think of the hard work those people committed to doing for our children, their humor and their caring.
These images – coaches, mentors, teachers and players alike – crashed through my mind as Steve Hall gave me his usual warm and friendly smile. Steve always asks about my youngest. That touched my heart – this shared memory of sports on our little island, of someone asking about my son.
Then I turned and ran into Kevin McConnell, the parent of a friend of my eldest daughter. Kevin was always kind and big-hearted and shared such an exuberant belief in the kids. I loved his daughter and remember her frequently visiting our house, singing with our daughter, and creating plays and skits. Seeing Kevin today and catching up with him at the store brought back many warm memories of those times, and of his daughter, who grew up to be a nurse. That makes me smile, too.
With those thoughts in my mind, I returned to my car with all of my bags, mulling about the bittersweet nature of this holiday. My dad won’t be with us this year to sing “Oh Holy Night” or open yet another Seattle Seahawks gift. He will never do that again. But my kids will soon be home for the holidays. They will see old coaches in town or old friends of parents from childhood, catching these people up on their lives. These people formed a tapestry of support for them.
So as I look forward to the holiday ahead, I count my blessings, but also allow myself to feel the melancholy mixed with anticipation.
And I think of friends who suffered losses this year, some of them almost incomprehensible to me.
Grief and heartbreak are real.
May we all be aware as we move through our days, aware that loss is real, pain is stark for some during the holidays and we need to take care of one another. None of us know the burdens others carry. And those burdens are especially heavy during the holidays.