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I’ve reached a stage in life when the holidays are a mixed bag of emotions.  Like so many people, I mourn the loss of  friends and family who will not be with me at this time of year.  The first year is always the hardest; that empty seat at the table, the missing tradition so indelibly tied to the loved one who is not present. I have commiserated with friends who recently lost a parent or partner and are dreading the hole in their holiday. It is to be “gotten through” this year, and somehow balanced against the warmth and joy that we should be feeling.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we have to face the past, reconcile it with the present and look for the healing the future will bring. I managed to live for thirty years before true tragedy changed my life on Christmas eve. I have no advice or magic cure to offer those who are struggling with the loss of a loved one this year. The old platitudes of “time will help to heal” are useless when you are living with grief. I only offer:  believe it is a process and a deep lesson in personal awareness.

Life is a series of losses and gains. While there is no guarantee they will equal out; there is the knowledge that balance can be found. Allow yourself the tears, the pain, and alternatively do not let it dull your ability to recognize the moments when just letting go to laugh and sing is what your heart and soul need.

After several dark years, there were many others filled with the joy of children, animals and the wonder of seeing life through a child’s eyes. The purity of untainted belief I saw in my daughters, helped me realize there was comfort to be had.

I balance these desperately intense emotions every time the shortest day arrives. It is one day where I will allow myself to contemplate the loss and the gain I have experienced. There will be empty seats at the table. There will be shiny new high-chairs at the table, filled with happy babies. I can not miss the irony of my friend, Mary Iselin, who buried her dad but welcomed a new grandson.

There will be deep dark nights and impossibly bright days. I trust in the impermanence of life. Onward through the fog…


8 comments on “The Ghosts of Christmas Past

  1. Touring NH says:

    You can find peace in having learned the lesson that life does go on, that there is still happiness to be had and beauty to be shared. Some people never get past a tragedy, never learn to live again. Like you, I don’t know if the gains and losses ever equal out, but I do know that I won’t waste my time trying to do the math. All that does is keep it all fresh in my mind. This will be the first Christmas without my father-in-law, but we have chosen to celebrate him, not mourn the loss.


    1. Math was never my strong suit! Thanks and Happy Holidays!


  2. alinekaplan says:

    This is particularly relevant this year. On Saturday my sister and i went to a funeral. Our best friend growing up lost her husband after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes that means the passing creates mixed feelings in the bereaved but Pauline and her family were suffering real, raw grief. At this time of year I also think of my Dad who loved Christmas. He bought records of Christmas music, helped decorate the tree, got a kick out of tucking little toys for us among the branches, and loved my mom’s holiday pecan roll and Swedish tea ring. It was his favorite day.


    1. Thanks Aline, what a joy to remember your dad’s love of the holiday. My dad always read “A Christmas Carol” to us and did all the voices for the characters.
      I’m sorry for your friend’s loss. Grief knows no season.


  3. It might be a dusty old platitude, but it is true that time heals. The hurt never goes away completely but it does get easier to bear as the years go by.


  4. Chris F says:

    Holidays are doubly fraught when they coincide with the loss of someone close. As we all get older Christmas is more than ever about memories and traditions. Maybe there is some commonality and comfort in that.


    1. Thank you Chris, there is comfort there.


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