It was Christmas 2008, we were living in what we referred to as “the big house”, the house Jeff and I built 6 months after we were married to accommodate the wave of 5 of our 6 grown children needing a safe refuge due to the upside down housing market, job loss, divorce and going back to school.
In January of 2008, my 50-year-old sister tragically and suddenly passed away, and even 11 months later, we were still in a daze, just going thru the motion of celebrating a holiday, if you can even call it celebrating. My sisters two grown sons, both in their early twenties flew up from Florida so we could all be together. They were still numb with grief as we tried our best to focus on the 4, 2 and 1 year old grandbabies and not on the elephant in the room which was the absence of our loved one.
My sister was a vibrant woman, she could light up a room, she was beautiful and she fearless. Hers was the home where all the kids gathered, she was the cool mom, her door was always open to her sons’ friends. And on this Christmas day, she wasn’t with us, her absence was felt by everyone.
Added to the mix that fateful Christmas was my sister-in-law, my best friend, who made the incredible effort to be with us knowing this would be her last holiday because at age 56, she was in her final stage of terminal cancer. She passed away 11 days later.
When I was organizing my photos recently, I couldn’t find any photos of that fateful Christmas, not even one, no one took a photo that year.
When I think about a time when I was waiting for a light to shine, I think this was one of the darkest points in my life, and like everyone else, I’ve had my share of dark times.
What I regret most about that dark time was how we all did our best to keep busy so we wouldn’t have to deal with what we were feeling. Christmas can act as the great diversion, there’s so much going on, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and craziness and not have to deal with the feelings of grief and loss. At least that’s how it was for our family.
Grief is a funny thing, at first, it’s like you’re at the ocean and you can’t take a step or even a breath without feeling a wave knock you over, but in time, the waves get smaller and less frequent, until one day when you think you’re ok, you hear a song, or see a picture, or have a thought and then you get hit with a huge wave. It’s as if grief has the last word, you never know how it will hit you. Even if you think you have total control over your emotions, guess what, you don’t.
And in a strange way, it’s the grief that will help make that light shine again, because when we grieve, we feel, and when we feel, we heal and it’s in the healing we have those wonderful moments when we know our loved ones are with us, when we can sense their presence. When we can talk about them to one another and laugh and cry and it’s OK because they will always be with us.
This Christmas, like every Christmas for the past 10 years, we’ll remember Janet and Joan and now Mom and we’ll laugh, and we’ll have tears, and remember, and in our love for those that are no longer with us, that’s where the light will shine.