Whew….this is the week when every year I speed through 3 cities and 2 countries in the space of a few days, in order to get home for Christmas with my children. In theory, Christmas is a happy time of year, although sometimes we get so buried in the details of it, that we forget the bigger picture, the meaning of the holidays (if you believe in those meanings), and forget to be grateful for what we do have, rather than regretful or even resentful of what we don’t. I am always grateful to get home. The weather can be dicey in both Paris and New York in December, and I always worry about getting snowed in, in either city, and missing the holiday with my family entirely. And being too busy too much of the time, and usually working til the last minute, I worry that I might get sick, catch a flu and be unable to fly. And although I flirted with some kind of bug before I came home, nothing much came of it, so I was able to fly. I stop in New York on the way home for Christmas, to celebrate the birthday of one of my daughters who was born a week before Christmas. So I was happy to spend a day with her in New York on the way home, which is always a treat for me. And it was freezing in New York.
So laden like a beast of burden, with a suitcase full of gifts (which broke and exploded at the airport, but fortunately nothing got lost, but I had to replace the suitcase in New York), and my two dogs in their traveling bags, I boarded the plane in Paris, and whipped through New York, and got home in time for Christmas, and everything I need to do before. I pride myself on being a very organized person, and my whole family makes fun of me because I start Christmas shopping in August, but I have a lot of kids and people to buy presents for, so I like to get an early start, and hate the last minute rush. But no matter how organized I am, there are always people I have forgotten, things that don’t arrive, last minute requests from my kids, so I end up rushing as much as anyone else.
And although in many ways I am blessed, and have many children, and am grateful not to spend the holidays alone, as many do, even that is not always as easy as it appears. Important holidays are often as much about the people who are not there, as about those who are. It has been many years now since my son Nick died, and to some extent I have adjusted to it. But no matter how philosophical you try to be, it remains a hole in your heart when you lose a child, or someone you love that much. My ex husband (with whom I remained very close), the father of my children, passed away two years ago, and we feel his absence sorely too. I was standing at the Paris airport, juggling the dogs, my purse, a tote bag, my briefcase, waiting for the flight, when suddenly I was so overwhelmed by missing my son that I could hardly breathe. It was as though I had lost him yesterday. I could easily remember all his sweetness, his funny antics, how much he loved Christmas, how much we loved each other, how loving his hugs were, and I felt as though the bottom had fallen out of my world, again. I could barely speak I was so overwhelmed with grief when I got on the plane. In many ways, particularly on holidays, that is a wound that never fully heals, and suddenly when you least expect it, you are broadsided by the loss again. And in today’s complicated world, where families are broken up into different cities, suddenly it’s not as easy to get together as it once was. My three older now married children have their own lives, homes, families, in laws, and don’t spend Christmas with us anymore. And although I try to be reasonable about it, that makes me sad too. It seems only yesterday when all 9 children were around our table, laughter and happiness were the order of the day, and it seemed as though life would be simple and happy forever, which we all know is never the case. And holidays put a lot of stress on all of us. Arguments and disappointments seem to come to a head then, when time is short and nerves are frayed. Disagreements are remembered, and instead of peace and joy, dissent can become the order of the day. It’s so easy to remember how happy things used to be, and to be acutely aware of how different they are now. And the addition of in laws can be a challenge in some families, suddenly we are not just surrounded by our children but there are strangers with different points of view in our midst, and we all get pulled many ways. And during the holidays we are even challenged sometimes by finding ourselves nose to nose with relatives we don’t get along with or like, and arguments are best avoided at the holiday table, and you have to bite your tongue. I don’t mean to harp on the downside of the holidays, but it’s comforting in a way to admit to it, because it’s something we all deal with. Life changes, people change, circumstances change and our happiest holiday memories may be different than the reality we live today. I think it happens to us all. And no matter how beautiful the table looks, how great the presents are, or how many adult children are at my table (more than most), on Christmas eve I will still feel the absence of my son, and his father, we will all feel it, whether we put it into words or not.
I got home last night, after 2 long flights, and the quick stop in New York. The dogs and I survived the flight. I unpacked when I got home. I ran around like a maniac all day today, and will all weekend, with final preparations and even last minute shopping. I gave a Santa lunch for my grandchildren today, which was fun. They’re very young, and only two out of five were able to come, but I was grateful to have them there. My own children who live in other cities are coming home today, and I am giving a Christmas party tonight for friends I often don’t see all year long, since I’m not in California full time anymore. There is a bittersweet feeling to the holidays, which are as much about our history as the present day.
I have so much to be grateful for, and I am, and I often share with you how important gratitude is in our lives. But our memories are tender and nostalgic and often bittersweet. I remember the skating parties we gave for our children, our friends and their children, when my children were younger, and how much fun we had. I remember how wonderful it was when the kids all still lived at home, when we didn’t have to plan visits to other cities to see each other, when work didn’t rule our lives quite as much. I remember baking with the kids for their teachers and our friends. We made brownies for everyone….it was all so easy and so happy, and life looked like a Christmas card. But today is sweet too. And times change. It’s a challenge to adjust to the changes, and as a wise friend of mine says “That was then. This is now.” Now is always different in all our lives. My ‘work’ this Christmas is to remember how lucky we are to have now, and the blessings that we do. And even if life is stressful, we no longer live in the same city, if the brownie tins we filled are long forgotten, and the skating parties are only a memory, and not all of us are together on holidays anymore, and even if at time tensions mount…..we still have much to be grateful for. I wonder sometimes what my son Nick would be like if he were still alive today, he would probably be busy, with his life and career, probably live in another city, and rush home for a few days, as we all do now. We all grew up, and so did I. But I am grateful for the blessings of the Christmas we do have, as well as the Christmases we used to have. How sweet and beautiful they were!!!
May your Christmas be peaceful, happy, stress free, among people and relatives you like. If you have children, I hope they can come home, or that you’re with them. And if your family has dispersed and you’re on your own, may a loving angel of Christmas bring kind people into your life, and the miracle of love and grace. And thank YOU for your kindness to me all year, your lovely messages, and the letters I get from you. May you be blessed during these holidays, and always, and may these holidays be filled with love for you.