“The deepest thing I know about loss is that grief is love. It is love. It is not sorrow. Is is beauty, not ugliness.” – Cheryl Strayed
December 3rd marked the anniversary of my dad’s death. It has been 24 years.
Last year at this time I wrote a blog post about staying present and how very grateful I was to have my mom around especially since she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer the year before.
But another year has passed and it it Christmas again, and this year she is not with us.
On the morning of the 3rd, while my two older kids were at Sunday school studying Hebrew and with our littlest in tow, my husband and I bought our Christmas tree/holiday tree/Hanukkah bush.
As we wandered around the parking lot looking for the right tree, I remembered being a little girl and picking out a tree with my dad; him in red and black buffalo plaid with rosy cheeks and me in an oversized jacket, also with rosy cheeks.
When I was little, we often waited to get our tree until a few days before Christmas. At that point, it was slim pickings. My dad took the whole process very seriously from getting the right tree (tall but not too tall as fullness was more important than height) to the lighting of the tree (colored lights versus white and silver rain versus gold tinsel) to when we were allowed to descend the stairs Christmas morning. (He had to be showered, shaven and dressed, the dog had to go out, and lights had to be on).
Back at the lot across from the church, we had found the proper tree and I went to find someone to wrap it up for us. While I was meandering through the maze of sweet smelling Firs and Spruces, another family had chosen the same one. As the man stood next to his daughters and wife, he said to my husband, “Oh, did you want this one?” Um yeah we did. But my husband told him to take it. Fortunately, both men were not about to get into an argument over a Christmas tree, across from a church on a Sunday morning, during the most wonderful time of the year.
A few moments later, the grower of the trees came up to me, a man with a simultaneous child like earnestness and a Grandpa’s glimmer in his blue eyes, and said, “Your husband is a sweetheart, I can see why you married him.”
His kind face reminded me of my dad and a warm smile danced across my chest. My Dad and husband never got to meet but I always felt like my dad had a hand in getting us together with the help of one of my best friends and a boat.
And the next day, while lighting candles for my parents, reciting a Jewish prayer and glimpsing at our happy tree in the background, I felt my dad had a part in helping us purchase our tree this year too.
While I am feeling the sting of their deaths, I am reminded of the merriment on my dad’s face during the holidays. I think of him standing on a ladder declaring, “This is a dictatorship, not a democracy,” when I mentioned wanting the outdoor lights hung a certain way. I feel my mom’s warmth from the inside out. I am grateful for the grower of the trees sharing such generous words with me. And beyond grateful for my husband and kids.
The past fills me with goodness and sadness too of course. But mostly, I am thankful today for knowing that although, sadness is part of grief, at it’s tender heart, grief is about love.
And on Thanksgiving, as hearts kept popping up in unassuming places, I felt it too. I had a stain on my jeans and when I wiped it clean with a wet towel, the remaining mark was that of a perfect damp heart. Then I saw two hearts on the ground, two different times throughout the day, one made from brown leaves, and the other made from stringy threads of bark.
These signs remind me of what’s important.
We will not be running ourselves ragged this year (or any year, hopefully) and we will not attend every event. I may even say no more than yes as a means of self preservation and self care.
If there is anything positive about grieving and I do think there are some things, it affords us an opportunity. An opportunity born from perspective. The perspective to see what is most important, what we value and cherish deeply, and then to proceed accordingly.
What feels important to me right now is staying well and in the flow of what feels good and right, comforting and nourishing. It is about honoring and remembering my mom and dad, being true to my heart, and spending quality time with family and friends. This is the profound gift I believe my mom is giving me this year.
This gift is about not striving for anything in particular, certainly not perfection. It is just about living day to day, staying grounded in my heart, and simply trying my daily best. My messy, winging it, sure to make mistakes, go with the flow, last minute, joyful and probably teary, but always with heart, humor, and hope, honest to goodness, best. I thank my parents for showing me the way.
May your holiday be full with love and what you hold dearest and deepest. Thank you for being out there and reading my blog. Somehow this exchange sustains me. I hope it helps you too.
And to all of our loved ones that we have lost this year and for the way they continue to show up, inspire and encourage us, we are greater because of you and will keep living and loving because of you.
To those struggling, stay close to your heart and take it slow, breath by breath. Love yourself, fill up on goodness. Get fresh air and drink some water. Distract yourself with a good book, a walk, a funny show, or a being with a dear friend. Look at beauty, find something to be thankful for. Support someone else. Get support for you. It could always be worse and things will get better may feel like empty platitudes right now but there is truth in them too. You know the way, Love. You are never truly alone.
My sincere and heartfelt wishes for a Happy Everything and beautiful, peaceful, loving New Year.