Driving south on Pacific Coast Highway, the sun shines and I listen to The Moth Radio Hour. The storyteller reminisces about a Christmas homecoming after his first semester of college. He and his mom, too poor to buy presents, decide to cut pictures from magazines, images of gifts they would have given one another if they had the money. A luxury car, fancy jewelry and a mahogany bedroom set are among their selections. The sweetness of this gesture makes me teary and my own holiday memory comes to mind. I see myself with my siblings, we are grade school age, huddled together on the living room sofa. The heavy Sears Catalogue Wish Book rests open on my lap. In the days leading up to Christmas we kids spent hours turning its pages and pretending that we could have anything its glossy images had to offer. And even though we rarely got all that we wanted we never gave up hope.
One memory triggers another, and before I know it I’m remembering the last Christmas with my mom and dad and the first one without them. It’s been twelve years. Alone in my car I say out loud, “I miss you so much. I wish you were here.”
Instead of finding comfort in memories, I let the holiday blues sneak into my psyche for the first time this Christmas. Even in the isolation of the pandemic I had managed to avoid seasonal sadness until this very moment. And then it occurs to me, perhaps it is because of the pandemic that I was able to keep the blahs at bay. I’ve spent much of the past year helping people, giving my time where I can, and sending love and light when I can’t be present. Missing my parents seems small when our world has suffered such immeasurable loss. If my mom were here she’d be quick to point out that there have been miracles too, signs of hope.
Still, there will be countless families whose will feel huge loss this year. Acknowledging the empty chair at the table, the first holiday without someone they loved dearly, someone who can never be replaced, is so painful. I try to remember how I got through those days. Time I suppose. I sit at the traffic light, waiting for the little green arrow. The storyteller’s voice draws me back into his tale. I catch its hopeful ending and I’m already feeling better.
But what about the sadness, all the broken hearts. How do we help those who have lost faith, all hope? We can only share our stories, find the ways in which we are connected, and do our very best to help each other heal. Sometimes healing is found in happy memories, sometimes in helping others, and sometimes it just takes time.