As I watch my grandchildren gather around the tree to inspect the packages, lifting, smelling, shaking each one, I think of how symbolic our celebration is at Christmas—the way that we offer gifts, receive them, and count them. What are we measuring? Zoe and Miles are a good example of this: “Nana, do you love Miles more than me? He has six presents and I have four. You need to give me two more.”
This leads to several discussions about whether she actually believes that I love him more and her less—reluctantly she says she knows it’s not true. But does she really?
It must be a universal, this doubt. When I grew up, I observed the ongoing conflict between my grandmother and mother, first the arched eyebrows, the tension in the room, the buildup to a rollicking fight, the explosion. I didn’t know it then, but the unfinished business of my grandmother leaving my mother when she was young was the subtext of all fights. It was about failures in love—feeling unloved, feeling guilty. And the struggle not to feel any of it.
It’s a blessing to immerse myself in a holiday with my daughter now, after a delicious train ride from the Bay Area to San Diego. She loves sparkly lights, decorating the tree, the house, the trees outside of the house, making cookies, wrapping presents. I had to learn how to celebrate holidays by watching how other families “did” Christmas, wrapping presents, and holiday food , trying to create a meaningful holiday as a single parent with three children. We had our traditions—cookies, a decorated tree, one present opened on Christmas Eve. Movies and a big dinner on Christmas. Year after year, the echoes of the Christmases of my past would grow dimmer as we created new memories.
It’s important to know that we can heal the past by creating a new present, but for some, the healing will be long, or never. As I watch my grandchildren’s happy putterings about Christmas, I can’t help but think of families who have lost their children, particularly the Sandy Hook families who are grieving the impossible loss of their children. We think too of the broken hearts of everyone who suffers loss. The happiness we feel, interleafed with the awareness of the suffering of others, is a way to dig deeper into the meaning of Christmas and all the holidays of this time of year. To hold in our hearts the whole of humanity, represented by our family. To hold our love with compassion for others, to realize that the wish of everyone is to be happy, to be loved, to be at peace.
What are your special moments this year? Your blessings?
What traditions are you creating for your family that break from past traditions?
Have a wonderful holiday! And capture your special moments in writing, with photos for future stories!
Linda Joy,Thank you for sharing such tender thoughts at what can sometimes be the most vulnerable time of the year for many. They are so soothing.My favorite line is ” we can heal the past by creating a new present.”
Thanks Kathy. Yes, we have discovered that this is possible, partly by living and partly by writing! Have a lovely holiday.
Linda Joy, You’ve spoken for all of us who have suffered great losses. Thank you. Giving is healing for me as well. I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday. I look forward to more with Linda Joy in the new year.
You are a brave story teller too and offer many opportunities to help people to walk a difficult path, knowing that you are a witness to that path. Blessings, and yes, let’s have more memoir fun in the new year!
Beautiful, Linda Joy! I love this sentence , “And the struggle not to feel any of it.” Such few words with such a powerful impact. Thank you. Wishing you the Merriest of Christmases!
Dear Becky Thank you for your comment! Yes, so many people try not to feel and know painful truths, and of course this is part of the human experience, but still one has to try to know what we can bear, when we can bear it. Blessings to you and your family on the holiday!
Linda Joy, thank you for your thoughtful Christmas essay. On Wednesday, December 19, 1962 I wrote in my college diary that I called home (long distance) for the first time since arriving at Park College (now Park University) on September 10, 1961. My parents were frugal, and long distance phone calls were regarded as an “only in an absolutely necessary” indulgence.
Now, 50 years later, my husband and I are grandparents for the first time. Natalie was born in July and yesterday we watched her “perform” for us on our daughter’s Facebook video chat. We’re half a continent away from each other but grateful that technology enables us to be in touch at Christmas time or any time.
Dear Barbara, Your comments serve to remind us how much has changed in a relatively short period of time, and how much fun it is now to be connected by many different technologies. I remember the days when one just didn’t make phone calls on a whim. Have a wonderful, connected holiday!