Joy and Grief: The Paradox of the Holidays
December 7, 2021
This holiday season, I am reminded that we are still in the COVID-19 pandemic and celebrating the holidays, once again, with this virus. However, this year has shown itself to have been one of the richest years in moving us towards brighter days.
One year ago, there were no vaccines. As I write this, we have three vaccines to protect children and adults. The strength that our healthcare community has generated is momentous and inspiring. Many healthcare workers have felt a renewed understanding that comes from forward-facing research. Nonetheless, the fact that over 777,000 people have died in the U.S. alone forced me to accept my assumptions of knowing we all have expiration dates.
Death and dying are in front of us each day. Many times, they each come up as a new statistic. For example, we talk about how many veterans commit suicide each day, how many millions of people have died from COVID, the loss of life due to accidents, overdoses, falls, heart attacks, the list can go on. Since most of us only get the aggregate numbers of casualties and deaths, it is difficult to respond with compassion and empathy deserving more of persons than numbers.
Then comes the loss of a “someone,” a person whose life was entangled in ours. It could be someone we have not seen for many years or someone we see each day. Someone we live with or someone we used to live with. Or even someone who knew our parents or someone whose parents knew us. Our grief is directly dependent on the closeness of the relationship with the person who passed away (parent, friend, mother of friend, coworker). Whatever the relationship was, suddenly the enduring meaning of the person in our lives is all that remains.
For many years I have envisioned my own life as a complex mosaic of people scattered over many years (more as I get older). Each loss has resulted in this mosaic rearranging itself for my own life to be whole again. For those that were closest to me, their death is a new amazing, melancholy piece that fits uniquely into this mosaic.
Grief & The Holidays
The holidays are acknowledged across the globe every year. It is a time of family gatherings and celebrations.
When we are young, the holiday season is magical. When we are older, it can become pressured and more expensive. When we move into later years, we have memories of our parents and grandparents who may have passed on, of our kids who are grown with their own holiday traditions, and a growing list of people no longer part of the festivities because they have moved away or passed on.
Holidays exacerbate grief. For many of us, we relive our losses and experience our sadness again. For me, grief shows up any time of the year, any day of the week, and any hour of the day.
Death and dying leave us to guess and project the “why.” However, it makes me think of the Alfred Lloyd Tennyson saying, “Ours is not to wonder why, ours is to do and die.” Not to be fatalistic, just to remind myself that “why” questions are difficult to answer. Sometimes we just have to accept what is, as life does not answer “why” questions well. I also say to myself, my “why” is to live and love.
Still, answers to why questions may be difficult but there are some beautiful answers that surround us each day. I find these answers in nature.
Nature & Life
Nature is a pure and innocent example of regeneration and renewal.
All the amazing photography and videography evidenced in C.A.R.E. is only a moment in time, as neither the flowers nor mountains will ever be the same again.
This holiday season, turn to all that surrounds you and celebrate this moment for its unique, brief, and insatiable wonder of love and life.
I leave you with this photograph of Mount Lassen more than 25 years ago. You see the single tree with the snow-covered mountain behind it, it is flawless.
We recently returned to Mount Lassen. Although the landscape has changed and this tree could not be seen for the thick forest around it, the new growth reminded me of the wonders of life and its persistent regeneration.
Wishing you some respite this holiday season! Watch the video below to find a moment of peace.