I’m certain that whoever coined the term Seasonal Affective believed he or she was pretty clever, coming up with an acronym that spells SAD and all. I’m going through my own version of this right now, as is most of my family.
December 16th will mark the one-year anniversary of the death of my dad. It wasn’t completely unexpected, but it was sudden and a huge shock. We buried him on December 21st. Christmas just wasn’t the same. His death came two days after my birthday, and I’ve not felt much like celebrating this year. However, I was still gearing up for Christmas and trying to salvage that holiday for my family.
Then on Monday we got some bad news: my father-in-law has stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The doctor making the diagnosis predicts that my father-in-law has no more than six months left to live. For two days now, my husband and I have been dedicated to gathering information on Hospice care, short-term care facilities, and how to support his mother, our children, and each other through this terrible transition. My father-in-law has said that he does not want any treatment that involves chemotherapy or radiation. He’s 84, so I guess he can make that choice on his own.
Pardon my language, but screw my birthday. I couldn’t care less, seriously.
My children took the news very hard. They are angry that two Christmases in a row will be overshadowed by the death or illness of a grandfather. They were already struggling to contend with the anniversary of the first loss.
As a result, we’ve made some changes in our plans: we are making a renewed commitment to dedicating the holidays to spending time with people we love. My kids have already figured out that Christmas isn’t about the quantity of gifts under the tree, nor is it about the quality of them. The newest, biggest, best, most expensive thing isn’t what they care about. Our family strives for gifts with meaning, and the kids have lived without the monster Christmas for more than half their lives. And they’ve been fine. These kids don’t buy into the commercialism either, and for that I’m grateful, and very proud.
We are making time to take a family photo with my in-laws, before my father-in-law becomes too ill to do so. Yes, it means fitting one more thing into a schedule already packed with activities and work. Next week is finals week for my students, but I’ll take a day off if necessary. And we may take my in-laws for a quick trip to Nevada, where it will be warm and my father-in-law can be my golf partner for another round. Yes, it will be expensive, but I care less about the cost than I care about the time. Interesting how an event like this changes your perception of time, and how time, itself, changes moment by moment.
My father was taken suddenly, and I didn’t have the time to do these things with him. While there was some blessing in the fact that we didn’t have to watch him suffer and waste away, I’d have traded that for one more lunch at Granato’s Deli, or one more picture of us with big, cheesy smiles.
I refuse to become bitter about the holidays, and I’ll have to work hard to keep my children from becoming hardened against the season like my ex-husband did after his mother died in December many years ago. But one loss was difficult enough, and now we’re faced with another. I know that life isn’t fair; I know that others are experiencing the same kind of pain, or worse. So I guess, if I’m looking for the lesson in all of this, it’s that this is the season for handling things – and people – with care. Be gentle with each other, not imposing your jolly will on others, because they may be SAD, they may be in pain.
I lose patients with those people who go the “gotta have, gotta buy, need more” route, but I wonder what hole in their own hearts they’re trying to fill by doing it. Conversely, I’ve struggled with people like my ex, who proclaimed “bah, humbug” as their motto this time of year. They’ve given into the dark hole in another way.
My family and I are choosing differently. The holidays have always been about family, and about the gift of time. Now that lesson is even more immediate for us.
I wish you each a season of love, of time with those you love, and of opportunities to create memories to treasure forever.