Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Treasures

It's Christmas and we're busy getting ready.

Our tree is decorated and the lights are on.  But one of the most important parts of Christmas will be missing this year:  family.  Oh, most of our family will show up like always - full of laughter, hugs and warmth. 

But this year we'll be missing my dad (his third year missing) as well as my husband's mom who died this past summer.

At a holiday party this past weekend I learned of three other friends who lost their moms this past year.  We're in the generation that is facing the decline, and ultimate death, of our parents. 

The other night I woke up from a sound sleep thinking of something I needed to tell my father right away.  It took me a few seconds to come fully awake and realize that I would never again be able to simply pick up the phone and call my dad.  His loss, like the loss of my mother-in-law, has left a hole.

Most days that hole is covered and not so raw, but there are moments, like the other morning, when the scab rips off and the pain is fresh and real again.

The new report by AARP finds about 66 million Americans today are helping care for an family member.  These individuals – my peers – are facing a holiday filled with stress and worry.  It may be hard for them to find the “peace on earth; good will toward men” this Christmas.

The tree may be decorated and the lights strung on the house.  But inside, we’ll be facing a new kind of Christmas reality; the reality that life is short and those we have left are much to be treasured.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The true meaning of Christmas

Lots of families are at a crossroads today.

I just got an email from my niece. She’s a single mom with three young boys; she got laid off from her job last week. She’s struggling to figure out how to make Christmas simply happen for her family this year, let alone make it a merry one.

A colleague is taking a month off, starting next week, to care for a family member at home.

Many people, tired of pounding the pavement looking for elusive jobs, are turning to education to try to get trained in something that offers better job potential – or just helps them keep their dignity until the job market changes.

Whether the issue is work or care – or something else entirely, a juncture into the unknown is where many of us find ourselves.

What do we do now? How do we know the right path to take?

My niece says she’s not eating well and is barely sleeping. The experience of being at a life crossroads is causing her severe stress. She’s probably not alone. Here we are, headed into the merry holiday season, and many, many individuals are sharing my niece’s feelings.

Feelings that life’s sudden uncertainness may bring worse times ahead, not better.

Feelings that you won’t be able to play your role in life – as a mom, a breadwinner, or a caregiver.

Feelings that maybe this Christmas will be a bust rather than the family’s annual highlight.

I don’t have any magical fairy dust to change those feelings of despair to feelings of hope and joy. I wish I could find just the right words to say to my niece, my friends, my colleague.

Sometimes it helps to know that, even at the toughest of life’s crossroads, you are not traveling alone. You’ve got other people cheering you on, offering you love, support and encouragement.

Maybe that’s why so many people of my generation are joining social networking websites like Facebook, reconnecting with friends and family far-removed and nearly forgotten; people who will send you hundreds of birthday wishes or random messages of friendship and support.

Maybe that friendship and support is, after all, the true meaning of Christmas.