The Holidays: When Joy and Loss Co-Mingle

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving visit with my younger son and his family. They flew in from Denver, and my son’s first child from a previous relationship, now a college sophomore who lives across the river in Indiana, came over as well. A special joy was seeing that no matter how many months the younger grandchildren haven’t seen their big brother, the bond remains as strong and as playful as ever.

On the last day of their visit, my family surprised me with an early birthday celebration. They’d all written beautiful notes to me on an incredibly schmaltzy birthday card (my favorite kind) and enveloped me in an enormous sandwich hug. We snacked on my husband’s irresistible peanut butter pie.

I felt such joy at feeling so loved as we celebrated together. But as my actual birthday approaches, my grief is ever-present as well. Four years ago, my husband and I had just pulled up to a Christmas tree lot to pick out our tree, an annual tradition on my birthday, when I got the call. My mom was dying, the caregiver told me. And no, there was no point in my trying to get to Boston. I wouldn’t make it in time.

Even though dementia had robbed my mom of so much, and I’d been losing her for years, piece by piece, I was still devastated. And I will never have a birthday in which I don’t keenly feel her loss and remember standing in that Christmas tree lot, numb with grief.

And now my heart goes out to the choral director of the community chorus I sing with, whose father is not expected to make it past Thanksgiving weekend. Fortunately, she made it to Alabama in time to be with him, but I know she will never again celebrate Thanksgiving without experiencing the pain of his loss co-mingled with the joys of the season.

This, it seems to me, is the challenge of being human. It doesn’t work to pretend the shadow of our sadness isn’t present, but it’s vital to let the joy in as well.

Above all, it’s love that endures.

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