Decorating a Christmas tree is a tradition I have always loved. When I was a kid, everyone in the family helped hang the many ornaments, some home-made and others store-bought, on the real pine tree that had a place of honor in the living room. Back in those days, people embellished their trees with strands of tinsel, which my mother insisted had to be placed individually on our tree. No throwing handfuls of tinsel at the tree and hoping it would magically spread out for us!
(Of course, we all did “cheated” as soon as Mom wasn’t looking.)
When Dan and I established ourselves as a family, we continued this tradition that was cherished by both of our families. Again, decorating the tree was a family endeavor. How I loved our Christmas trees! I would play the song “O Christmas Tree” in its honor while I admired the ornaments and the twinkling lights. Christmas without a tree was unthinkable!
Then my husband died four months before Christmas in 2012. Celebrating Christmas became a chore, and decorating a tree lost its allure. My daughter came one year and put the tree and other decorations up—and I did appreciate having the holiday cheer around. But I never felt like dragging all of the boxes out of the garage and going through the effort doing the job by myself. I settled for a two foot tree that I could decorate with a few small ornaments. It wasn’t the same—but at least it was a tree.
About a week ago, I decided to put up the tree and decorate it like we used to.
Removing each ornament from its storage box brought back many memories. Seeing ornaments that were gifts from students, or that I made reminded me of when and where I acquired it. Some of them date back many years. For instance, I have two decorations that I bought when I went to Toronto many, many years ago with a good friend. There are ornaments I made, including a stuffed Santa and several ceramic pieces. A strawberry that a dear friend made for me twenty years ago has a place of honor on the tree as does a heart shaped ornament inscribed with ‘Happy Birthday’ that I received from my Aunt Noel and Uncle Jack when I turned forty. Another beloved aunt, Virginia, gave me one of the original “Elf on a Shelf” figures back in the 1970’s—and it, too, occupies a space on the tree. Needless to say, a few of the decorations were made by my now-adult daughter when she was in preschool. Hanging those ornaments on the tree brings back memories of the delightful, curly haired child she was. I love the idea of Santa, so quite a few of my decorations are Santa-themed.
It seemed that each ornament held some memory that reminded me of someone I love—many of whom are no longer with us. Two very special ornaments were made by my Mom many years ago. She cut ovals out of red velveteen fabric and then she embroidered our names on them. Originally they were embellished with paper bells which disappeared long ago. Whenever I touch these ornaments, I feel closer to my Mom.
When I was finished with the tree, I was delighted! Not only was it beautiful, but it reminded me of all of the people and happy times who were part of my life.
Recently, I was talking to a friend who enjoys reading my blog. She mentioned that it had been a least a month since I updated it. There’s a reason why. When I started this blog, my main goal was to attract a following for my writing. I promised that it would not be political because I subscribed the old fashioned notion of avoiding talking about religion and politics.
But somehow, writing a blog like mine in the midst of mass shootings, including sniper attacks on police officers and the death of Black citizens at the hands of law enforcement seemed frivolous. Every time I thought I had a good topic, another national tragedy would occur—so I decided to wait a week or so. The week turned into a month and threatened to become six months and then a year.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that especially because the news is so grim so much of the time, perhaps a blog entry that brought a smile or a nod of recognition to my followers might be cathartic.
This revelation came to me while I was perusing Face Book after the mass shooting at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, which is the nearest big city to where I live. Even though I personally didn’t know anyone who died that horrible night, I still felt deeply saddened. Face Book was full of memes about “love winning” and posts about the night of terror. The news was brimming with stories about the perpetrator and most importantly, the victims.
Then my brother-in-law died. It was a tsunami of sadness and shared grief.
I found myself seeking out Face Book posts showing pictures of children, dogs and kittens—and gardens, rainbows and waterfalls and—well, you get the picture. I was seeking an antidote to all of the sadness around me.
So, I decided that it was time to get back to the blog and writing about the sometimes silly and quirky observations about my life.
I hope you understand. See you tomorrow.
(And here’s a picture of a waterfall and a rainbow!)
Picture courtesy of Pixabay
I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.
But consider this: my life took a drastic left turn on August 25, 2012 at 10 p.m.
My husband died.
I thought I was ready—six months of watching him die in bits and pieces should have prepared me. But it didn’t.
I went through the motions, appearing to be in control for several weeks.
Then I laid down on the couch and stayed there for months.
What dragged me out of my monumental funk?
Family and friends.
First it was my sister and sister-in-law who made me accomplish the important tasks necessary when someone dies.
I joined two key groups—a Widows Club and the Singles Club. These were the people who got it; the people who understood my pain and let me talk. I continued to participate in my Writing Group: a gathering of intelligent, vital, and interesting women who shared my passion for writing. Through that group I had opportunities to express my creative self.
The next three years brought challenges I couldn’t imagine: three surgeries, two bouts with MRSA, and then cancer, the deaths of my beloved brother and sister, in addition to several friends and other relatives.
My life raft through all this turmoil was family (of course) and the friends who stepped in and became a safety net.
Yes, I feel blessed.
It’s not a club I clamored to join. In fact, none of the members wanted to join it.
We were recruited in the harshest of all possible ways.
The initiation was almost as difficult as any street gang’s—we had to experience the death of the person most of us would call “our best friend, lover and life partner”—our husbands.
My inaugural date is coming on its third anniversary this August—the day Dan died.
I now know that joining this club has helped me to make sense of all that happened in the eight months preceding my husband’s death. I’ve had many opportunities to share stories and memories, and I’ve received empathy and sympathy, but never pity, from the other women. Knowing these women who have experienced what I did, and have continued to thrive, encourages me.
I see the common threads that are woven through all of our experiences: the feelings of loss, of being adrift, the anger, the sadness, and the confusion that follows the death of a spouse or partner.
Through the sharing, I’ve felt a lot less alone than I did before.
And on a more upbeat note, I’ve had some fun with my widow friends. We socialize, enjoy one another’s company, and have bonded individually and as a group. I’ve even learned to laugh again.
Losing my husband was a trauma. But I am grateful that the Widow’s Club was here, so when I went into my
Picture courtesy of Pixabay
There are certain dates that are more meaningful than others. One of those dates is April 10,1983. That was the date my Mom passed away after almost two years of coping with lung cancer.
I remember that day with crystal clarity.
It was a Sunday—a week after Easter. The weather was perfect: warm and sunny. I had attended noon Mass and then rushed to my parents’ home to see my Mom. It was around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. When I got there, it was obvious that Mom was dying. I helped my Dad change her nightgown and then kept vigil with him as she left this world.
The priest came and gave her the Last Rites. At one point, shortly after she died, I was aware of her soul—her anima—leaving the room.
My brother Michael was there with his wife and boys and I remember my sister Susan being there, too.
Eventually, the rest of my brothers and sisters (except for my youngest sister who was in Honduras doing research for her doctorate) assembled at the house.
As the daylight waned, we sat on our parents’ bed and talked about our Mom and our loss. It was both sacred and comforting to be able to be together in that way.
Now, all these years later, all that’s left is memories. I wish I could hear Mom’s voice one more time, or sit and talk with her again.
So much has happened since then. Our Dad died only a year and half later, babies were born, my sister and another brother got married, one of my mother’s children died too soon, my husband died, the grandchildren grew up and great-grandchildren were born. The family faced many crises and survived.
While time has tempered the grief, I still mourn for my Mom. She was only 60 years old when she died. We never got to see either of our parents grow to be old. They are preserved at a certain age and time in our memories.
Yet, I still yearn to spend one more minute, hour or day with my mother.
In the last two years, my life has been turned upside down by the death of my husband and then my brother.
These deaths affected everyone in my family—including my brothers and sisters.
Shortly after my brother passed away, one of my other brothers was “zinged” (his word) by a Face Book “friend” over the death of our brother.
Which leads to the question, is nothing sacred?
My first reaction to my brother’s posts about forgiveness and kindness were to want to beat this woman up—and I am a pacifist. I was utterly astounded that anyone could be that insensitive. Making a joke about our beloved brother’s death was beyond comprehension.
But, is that what’s happening? Is nothing sacred?
I wonder. Religion is fair game and tradition is fair game. Does this lead to less civility?
I’m not sure. I do know this.
Some things are sacred.
Death. The loss of a loved one is a heart-wrenching experience. Memories are all that’s left. And the ones left behind are alone, lonely, and sometimes frightened. They need kindness, understanding and solace, not a lame joke about death.
Religion. A person’s religious beliefs should be sacred, no matter your own feelings about religion. I casually mentioned that I pray every day when I was out with friends a while ago. While they were respectful, they were incredulous. The idea of a mature adult praying struck them as somewhat odd.
Confidences. The secrets people share shouldn’t be fodder for gossip. I once knew someone who would worm her way into someone’s life, become that person’s confidant. and then regale everyone with the secrets her victim had shared. I admit that this is an extreme example, but gossiping is just as devastating—just on a smaller scale.
Being kind and caring in an increasing cynical and angry society isn’t easy. Personally, I’d rather be the exception than find myself mired in the muck of cruelty and insensitivity.
Tears. Crying. Sobbing.
Some people can’t stand the sight of tears. They feel uncomfortable when someone in their midst starts to cry. They furnish the tearful one with tissues. They tell you that you don’t need to cry. And some even demand that you stop. Then they’ll offer platitudes to “comfort” you.
“He’s in a better place.”
“She doesn’t want you to be sad.”
“Crying won’t change things.”
Sometimes, guilt is used.
“Everyone’s looking at you.”
“Stop acting like a baby.”
“Real men don’t cry.”
“C’mon, it’s been months.”
To me, tears are cathartic. I’ve had a lot to cry about the past several years: the death of my husband and brother and several friends.
I’ve hidden my tears, and shown a seemingly competent, albeit subdued front.
Time does, indeed, mute the pain. Notice I said mute, not erase. Nothing erases the pain. It’s there and it will be there for the rest of my life, I am sure. As I start to move on, and to participate more fully in my life, behind the smiles and the laughter is a deep well of loss and grief.
So, if tears should flow, I will let them. I will let them cleanse me and help me to cope. And then, once again, I will be ready to face a new day—alone.
Hair! We fuss with it, wash it, brush it, comb it, oil it, gel it, curl it, straighten it, color it, cut it, complain about it, and even lose it.
My mother had thick, black, luxurious hair.
When she was a little girl, her sisters (who were much older) cut it into a bob and placed huge, fussy bows in it.
In later photos, she had long hair that waved and curled. She combed the front of it into a beautiful roll (which I’m sure she pinned into place), and let it fall in natural waves and curls to her shoulders. In other photos, she wears her hair in a lovely upsweep.
In my favorite picture of my mother, her glorious hair falls to her shoulders with the front artfully arranged on top. She is wearing a silky blouse and her lips are ruby red. She is simply stunning.
Years later, she cut her hair into a bob and began to wear hats.
One of my earliest memories of my Mom’s hair was when I was around 5 or 6 years old. I was getting ready to go to school—probably Kindergarten. Mom was braiding my hair, which was dark like hers, and wavy, too. She was admonishing me, “Stay still, Kathy.” Then she reached into her beautiful coil of ebony hair and removed bobby pins to secure my flyaway wisps into the braids. For a long time after that, I thought that bobby pins appeared magically in her hair.
She loved gray hair, and ironically, never had any. I often say that she would have loved my hair which now has steel-gray streaks.
Her life was cut short by cancer. Sadly, when she died, she had lost her hair as a result of chemotherapy and radiation.
But when I think of my Mom, I remember her thick, fabulous hair.
Christmas is upon us—again. I’m trying, God knows, to feel the Christmas spirit, but it is eluding me.
I want desperately to celebrate and enjoy the holiday season and all of its trappings: glittery ornaments, happy songs, gifts, Christmas trees, decorated houses. (Notice I left cookies off this list—I have no trouble enjoying them!)
I’ve heard all of the advice—you need new Christmas traditions, you need to focus on the positive, do for others, (which I’ve done), and you need to let go of the memories that hold you back.
Too bad it isn’t that easy.
The harsh reality is that Christmas will never be the same for me now that my husband is gone.
And dreaming up new traditions seems to be daunting right now.
Strangely, this feeling come upon me full force after what was supposed to be the start of a “new tradition.” (Isn’t that phrase an oxymoron?)
I attended a spectacular Christmas show at a local church the other night. A show that is famous in Orlando for the singing and the extravagance of the production.
It was all that—200 massed voices, all on key, singing favorite carols while perching in the branches of two gigantic Christmas trees. Meanwhile, an actor portrayed a harried director who doesn’t get the real meaning of Christmas—only to discover it before the end of the show. There was a recreation of the Biblical Creation story, complete with life sized elephant and giraffe puppets. Children danced, sang, and were incredibly sweet.
Yes, all the elements were there…
But I came home feeling even emptier.
Now I’m dragging myself through the season, trying to find something to cling to in order to make this a Christmas to celebrate.
So, I’m heading to snowy, cold Buffalo hoping to find the meaning of Christmas in the arms of my family.
I had extensive dental work done recently.
My dentist is a very kind, gentle woman who makes the experience as easy as possible. So instead of being tense and alert, worrying about whether or not something would hurt, I was able to let my mind wander.
While I was ensconced in the dental chair, unable to go anywhere while two people worked on my mouth, I started to think about several things.
I wondered about the first people and what they thought happened when a child was born. Were they surprised? Did they know what it was? Did they nurture the child?
After ruminating about this for a while, I began to think about the Universe and the existence of God. I concluded that, for me at least, that there must be a God.
Then I thought about death and the afterlife. I wondered what death was like—do we just go to sleep and lose consciousness? Are we reunited with those we loved in life who went before us? Is there really a place or state of being called heaven?
Finally, I decided that it didn’t matter because if there is a heaven, living a moral life would certainly merit that reward. And if there isn’t an afterlife, well, we lose nothing by being moral.
I found it amusing that I used to wonder how much longer the procedure would take, and if and when it was going to hurt…
Ah, the marvels of modern and pain free dentistry!
Image source myteeth.co.za