The holiday season is upon us, yet grief hangs around me like a cool mist these days. In October, a dear friend passed away; since then, we lost a much-loved uncle as well as several acquaintances. Each time I hear more news, I’m reminded how quickly life moves and how fleeting the time is with our loved ones. Some days, the sunshine of life will dry the grief until it seems to disappear; other days it permeates even the bones in my body.
Death is so final. Its reach so vast, its impact so lasting. We lost our dear friend to that monster named cancer. We watched him deteriorate and weaken, all the while vowing to beat it, but the monster won. It claimed its prey with the ease and stealth of a tiger pouncing on its next meal. It had no regard for how much pain it caused and how much it left in our hearts. The price of love.
And now our friend is gone from us. Although a vacant seat at the table, his memory stirs a smile even with our faces wet from weeping.
Suddenly all the world has changed. As I look at other friends and loved ones, I can’t help but question when. Then I see my own face in the mirror, and I wonder how.
Along with all the beauty and wonder of this life, I’m painfully aware, especially in this moment, there is still that sorrowful ending called death. That finality of life. We never know where it’s lurking or when it will come swooping in. In between, we catch our breath and try to focus on the blessings that still exist. Still, deep inside, I find it difficult to even comprehend that our friend won’t be popping in just to say hi. That the holidays—the fun and memories we shared—remain only in our minds and in our photographs now.
I warmly recall our last hug and how we clutched one another knowing it could very well be the last, and it was. I remember saying I love you and wishing I had said it more often. I remember the physical jolt I felt when the news came later that he was gone, the numbness, and the tears that poured down my face while I continued throughout my day. I wondered how in that instant, life could possibly go on and why the world around us didn’t stop to take notice of the enormity of our loss. Now nothing seems permanent, not friendships, and certainly not life. How do I make sense of the uneven terrain before me? Where do I place my foot when holes and pits are appearing so suddenly?
These December days are short and the nights cold. As I return home in the dark after running errands, my warm and festively adorned house beckons, as though there is someone at the door, waving me inside. I am thankful that we decorated, and a feeling of gratitude fills me as I step in and close the door.
Life is meant to be lived fully; of this I am certain. I remind myself that along with the grief and sadness that life inevitably brings, we all need to enjoy the brilliance of these days. Especially during this festive season. So, I will stay aware and watch the snow fall from inside the window and the lights twinkle on the trees. I’ll greet our guests as they arrive with their jubilant anticipation, drink in the smell of turkey baking, and clink my glass in celebration of this gift we call life. . . And I feel the gentle presence of those who’ve gone before us.
I wish you peace and love during this holiday season!
Author of Paulie and Me – The Joys and Struggle of Growing up with My Special Needs Brother