My biggest regret these days is that the old traditions don’t apply any more. No more kids in costumes on Hallowe’en, and fireworks are banned in my community; no more Easter Bunny with spring clothes, comic books and chocolate; no more pictures on Santa’s knee (that one always brought a tear to my eye) or knowing the stockings are hung and waiting to be filled... With the advent of DVDs and downloading, awaiting the airing of “Rudolf” or “Frosty the Snowman” is a thing of the past, and I can watch the Grinch at any time, with Boris Karloff or Jim Carey. The yearly countdown to holidays is no more; no kids in school, no Christmas break, just working for the month of December, shopping 24 hours a day for the three weeks leading up to the one day of the year they close the doors. Now is when I learn about myself; now I get to find out what traditions I did for everyone else, and which ones were really mine.
Dad loved the holidays and every tradition that went with it. The music, the food, singing carols together while we made our Christmas pudding - Silent Night” sung with three part harmony and woven together with his perfect Irish tenor - wrapping gifts and stacking them under the tree, and the family all together sharing a meal, warm with affection and good whiskey. There was always room at the table to fit one more plate, always a pair of arms to hold my children when they were small while I helped my Mother put the final finishes on the meal – placing olives and pickles on a tray and stirring the gravy in Granny’s turkey roaster. I have that roaster in my cupboard now, and it holds the auras of the “ghosts of a hundred turkeys” in its’ cast iron and enamel body. Last year I barely had the energy to put up my tree; I still went to the field, cut it down with my own hands the way my Father did when I was small, stood it upright in the heavy cast iron stand, hung on the lights, the baubles, the garlands, and placed St. Nicholas on the top of the tree where my children had taken turns (under duress sometimes) every year.
I have spent the last year asleep and dreaming, waiting to wake up from the long nightmare of grief and loneliness, but I didn’t get to have that luxury – if it is a luxury. There were times I felt like the stuffing has been kicked out of me once too many times and I didn’t have enough fight left to do more than get back up and step back in. But I am not numb. I just hadn’t mustered the strength to fight back yet. And while I was dreaming the rest of the world had left me behind. When there is no one to share them with I really have no interest in celebrating those things; celebrating them alone seems hypocritical to me because a special day is only special when your loved ones share it with you. You can cook a turkey or roast a ham any day of the week, but without those you love it really doesn’t mean anything.
But something changed in me over the last year. This time Christmas Eve wasn't an ordeal watching happy couples walk together through the doors, and knowing my family was celebrating without me. Somehow over the last 12 months I grew up. This is really MY first Christmas. One I should have had over 30 years ago, with no responsibilities other than being a guest in the home of someone I love. I am not making a meal, there has been very little baking, the lights are up on the front of the house, and the tree stands in it's place - for the last time in this home, as it happens. I have learned to let go, and to let things be. I have finally found the peace I had been waiting for. And from that place of peace comes new strength, and hopefully a new focus.
The truth is, the world doesn't treat you any worse than you let it, and just as Eleanor Roosevelt said "no one can make you feel inferior without your permission." Well, I no longer have the time to give anyone permission to make me feel inferior. I have been down a long and difficult path, but I discovered that, just for now, I have everything I could ever want; self respect, courage, strength, joy, independence, and love for my family. Anything else is just "stuff". I can get my own stuff, but knowing that I am worth all the things I have fought for over the last while is the most important part of my future. Now I get to go forward into the next part of my life with peace at last. Hard won, hard earned, and willing to let things be.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me....