Yesterday marked the third anniversary of a very sad day for us. Rather than wallowing in that day of loss, I chose to celebrate life — a satisfying brunch at a restaurant I’d been wanting to try, a visit to one of our favorite wine bars, a stroll around Rittenhouse Square in the early snow, and a little holiday shopping with my husband.
It wasn’t perfect. I was distracted by that old pull to immerse myself in the past vs. living in the moment. But I pushed through it and created some new memories. When you are lost in over thinking or caught in that cycle of self-involvement (I know – I’ve been there), focus on one small thing. It could be anything like savoring each sip of a wine you’ve never tried before, the act of making something like a pot of hearty soup or an entry in your journal, or taking the time to enjoy the quiet through a simple meditation that allows you to reset the pace. For me, it was standing on Walnut St., grabbing my husband’s hand and realizing that I finally allowed myself to move forward. In that moment, I felt hopeful and happy. Not sad. Not depressed. Not angry.
For me, December has always been a month of contemplation. That is even more true now, but I’m trying to observe the present instead of re-examining what happened last year or what this holiday SHOULD have been like. It is what it is and I want to make the best of it – just as it is.
These photos – taken by my husband – reflect how I feel right now. They represent some of my favorite spots in the city during a fresh snow. Plus they serve as a reminder to enjoy the moment and find pleasure in the little things…
Every Christmas Eve, we would all pile into my grandmother’s small row home in Darby. The aunts and uncles would toss gifts around the living room as the cousins claimed their usual spots along the stairs. I have no idea what we ate or who got what. But I remember the feeling – that warm joy in my heart that I was with my favorite people in the world.
Today, we still gather together for Christmas Eve. Over the years, we’ve lost precious loved ones and their presence is deeply felt on this occasion. There is still joy though, and now it’s more about the food (hoagie dip? scallops wrapped in bacon?) and the fashion (this means you Michelle) than the gifts. I look forward to this night all year.
My husband and I laugh (and sometimes argue) over the difference in our holiday experiences growing up. We ALWAYS had Christmas morning at our house and my entire extended family lived between 10 and 40 minutes away. His family moved around a bit and hit the road every Christmas to visit family in Pittsburgh. He tells great stories of family traditions and Christmas mornings filled with cousins at his grandparent’s house. This year, we will have the best of both worlds with both families. And hopefully next year, we will have our own tradition.
Here are some of my favorite “Christmas Stories” from over the years…
- My first Christmas memory at the Melrose Ave. house when Mr. Pompilli dressed up as Santa for the neighborhood kids. I remember knowing it was him; I was only 3 or 4 at the time. Clearly, my tendencies towards over-analysis started at a very young age.
- That feeling when you wake up and you realize that Santa has been at your house that night. I still remember taking those first steps down to the living room where you catch a glimpse of Christmas morning. For me, it was all about that the Barbie Townhouse. It was everything.
- This isn’t so much a favorite, as it is memorable – as in the scarred for life variety. One Christmas Eve my parents got into a terrible fight. My brother decided to stay in my room that night because we were upset. In the middle of the night, I went to find my mom and walked in on my parents. Let’s just say they were no longer fighting. I quickly returned to my room and told my brother not to worry – they were not getting divorced.
- A few years ago, Ryan and I escaped to New York – on Christmas Day. We got up early, took the train, and had a real New York holiday complete with ice skating at Bryant Park and a trip to Serendipity.
- Every Christmas with Ryan.
- And last, but certainly not least, the year I got this…(and yes, my brother had a matching outfit)
Yesterday was a good day. We stumbled upon a holiday greens sale at the Arboretum at Swarthmore College complete with S’mores and a bonfire. Then we ventured out to Arasapha farms for the perfect Christmas tree. Ryan and I made mulled wine, played a little holiday music, danced around the dining room, and decorated the tree.
Then I found it. The ornament that reminds me of December 2010. The holidays are a magical time of the year. You can find joy everywhere. I still find joy in that long December three years ago. Happy and scared to finally be pregnant, I felt like I was in a bubble – that time before no one really knows and you’ve got this amazing little secret.
And then comes the unexpected, tremendous silence and emptiness that changes everything, and this week in time will never be the same. Christmas will never be the same. You will never be the same.
But then you find this light – a husband who picks you up and carries you across the coals; a mother who lets you lay in her bed and takes care of you like she did when you were little; and support from so many other members of this “club” that none of you ever wanted to be a part of. Ironically, there is also this incredible surge of hope. Looking back, the hope part still makes me sad because “it” never happened and “that” baby never came – not the first, not the last. Your story changed and took another direction.
We’ve all experienced loss in some way or another. I don’t know what it is like to lose a spouse, a sibling, a friend or a parent too soon. This time of year, I think of all those people in my life who know that kind of loss. Then I try to remember all of the blessings. I have a supportive, healthy family, an amazingly supportive husband, and treasured friends. Life can still be good and sometimes you even forget about the hole in your heart.
And then that beautiful butterfly ornament flies out of that holiday box of decorations that has been stored in the basement all year. It immediately fills your house with a spirit that takes you back to those quiet moments three years ago – the ones that no one knows but you. The spirit doesn’t want you to forget them. It wants to stay part of you and everything that life has planned for you. It reminds you that it has never forgotten you and will always be a part of the love that created it. Then you cry. You cry like that day you released all of those souls and you saw the snow that no one else saw. You cry as if you are meeting for the last time (but hopefully not). You cry because you are so happy to be surrounded by that joy – if just for a moment.
Maybe none of it is real and maybe I imagined the whole thing. I don’t care. It’s mine.