What’s on Your Christmas List?

When I was a child my list for Santa went on forever and ever. I couldn’t wait for the toy catalogs to arrive in the mail, and when they did, I’d look through those catalogs from Sears and Montgomery Ward for days and days, just dreaming about what I wanted. I marked page after page of all the wonders of childhood favorites I just HAD to have!

Up until I was probably ten years old a doll, or two, was at the top of the list. I can still remember the excitement of dolls that you could feed and they’d actually wet their doll diaper for the little girl mommy to change! They were advertised as “lifelike” but looking back, and remembering the discarded dolls I found in my mother’s attic when I was cleaning it out, well, they didn’t look too lifelike. Their hair was painted on, and their bodies were made of hard rubber, not feeling in any way like a real baby. But as children, we thought those dolls were amazing, because we saw them with different eyes.

One Christmas I wanted a rideable stuffed horse so bad I didn’t know what to do. I saw it in the toy catalog and fell in love! I think I’d even named it, in anticipation of having it under the tree on Christmas morning! Which of course it wasn’t. I don’t remember whether or not I was disappointed, but I’m sure there were plenty of other gifts under the tree that morning. After all, when we were children Santa didn’t usually disappoint us, no matter what he brought. We were too excited, and caught up in the moment!

But that was over fifty years ago.

Times change. Children grow up. We become parents, and eventually grandparents. And we experience real life with all of its ups and downs.

Our Christmas lists change dramatically as we get older. Our daughter even mentioned that to me as we started our Christmas shopping, telling me that ever since she’d had her daughter in May, her priorities have changed. She just wants her child to have gifts; she doesn’t really want anything for herself.

That’s true for me as well. I really haven’t had much on my Christmas list over the past few years. The things I want can’t really be bought. And like our daughter, I want things for others who are important in my life….

Continued health and happiness for our new granddaughter as she grows from a baby into a toddler, and eventually a beautiful young woman.

A continuing blessed and happy marriage for our daughter and son in law. (And more grandchildren to come when they’re ready!)

Continued good health for my husband, who’s certainly scared us all over the past few years with a number of cardiac issues.

Financial blessings for several friends who are going through tough times.

Peace and reconciliation in families of some of our other friends.

Healed relationships and/or the right new relationships for those who are hurting and lonely…for new beginnings in a new year.

Healing from serious illnesses for some of our friends and their family members.

The safe return of a loved one deployed overseas in a combat zone.

A cure for cancer and Alzheimer’s.

The gift of a child for friends who are struggling with infertility.

A roof over heads and food on the table for many who are wondering how they’ll be able to make ends meet, especially during the Christmas season.

A badly needed new job, and reliable transportation to get there.

And this list is only for our circle of friends and their loved ones. I’m not even going to address the list of what our country, as well as the world we live in, so badly need.

Twenty plus years ago Amy Grant recorded the song “My Grown Up Christmas List.” I remember the first time I heard it, and how it touched my heart so very much. “No more lives torn apart…wars would never start…Time would heal all hearts…everyone would have a friend…right would always win…and love would never end.” A wonderful sentiment…a wonderful list.

Yes, as a child I had all kinds of toys on my list…material things that wouldn’t last. That would only make me happy for the moment. Until something new and better came along.

Now I’m grown up, whether I like it or not, and at an age where my wants and needs have dramatically changed.

The things I really want cannot be bought. Neither for myself or for others.

What’s on my list this year? You just read it.

What’s on your Christmas list?

When Holidays Hurt

Over the last month I’ve had three close friends lose their mothers. Two were expected, although it does not make the loss any less painful, but one was most definitely not expected. It was a total shock; unexpected, and without warning. And the lives of those left behind to mourn and grieve were forever and irreversibly changed.

Going on with everyday life after losing a loved one, parent, spouse, or even worse, a child, is one of the most difficult things to do. Reminders are everywhere, and those first days, weeks, months, are a constant reminder of what was, and what will never be again.

At this time of year, during the holiday season, it’s even worse.

That’s when holidays hurt. A lot.

We cannot help but remember back to the previous years, remember how we celebrated with our loved one, and in most cases not having any idea that it would be our last holiday with them.

That empty chair at the table is a painful reminder of what was lost. That missing face in family photos is very evident, a glaring hole in a canvas. Some families, at least that first year, set a place at the table for their loved one and put a picture of them there. Some will edit their holiday photos and insert their loved one’s picture in it somewhere.

For some, it helps. For others, it’s an even more painful reminder. Because their photos, along with our memories, are all that we have left of them. And in the first few weeks and months, those memories are almost as painful as the loss.

Fresh grief is the worst. And at the holiday season, it’s almost insurmountable.

If you haven’t experienced it, there is actually no way to really and truly understand the pain someone is feeling. It’s almost a physical ache, a knife in your stomach that you can’t pull out; a pain in your chest that overwhelms you.

Well-meaning friends try to make you feel better, but again, unless they’ve been through it, they honestly do not know the depth of your pain. All you can do is accept their condolences, and thank them for what they say, because they do mean well, and want to help. Yes, we know he or she is in a much better place, but right now, during this holiday season, we want them with us to share just one more day of memories!

To those of you who are wondering how to help your grieving friends at this time of year, I can offer several suggestions. Be sure to reach out to them, let them know you’re thinking about them. Offer to take them to lunch, or meet for a cup of coffee. If you haven’t been in their shoes, don’t be afraid to preface your conversation with something like, “I don’t know exactly how you’re feeling, and I can only imagine. If you want to talk, I’m here for you.” Remind them as well as show them you care. And make sure they’re not going to be alone, especially on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. Because those two days can seem to be two weeks long when you’re grieving.

The first holiday season is the roughest. I know. All too well.

When you’re grieving, holidays can really hurt.

But take heart…it does get easier. Time heals the emptiness and your pain will be eased. You will never forget them, but you will learn to manage your memories.

Be thankful you had them for the time you did. Be thankful you have your memories. Be thankful for the love you shared.

Hold the ones still with you close, and make as many memories as you can. Because you never know when you’ll need them.

Pumpkins, Candy and Dressing Up

It’s that time of year once again. The time when there’s that little nip of coolness in the air, especially the first thing in the morning. Even the sunlight seems crisper, giving us a hint of the chill that’s soon to follow. Yes, it’s that time of year that shuffles in the true end of summer. And shuffle is a good term, because I always go into it dragging my feet, kicking and screaming, because as I’ve said many times, I’m a spring/summer/flip flop type of girl!

We can feel the chill in the air every morning, even though it sometimes warms up in the afternoon. The trees turn into a palette of new colors; oranges and yellows and reds. And all those leaves begin to fall all over the yard, getting raked into piles of crisp color that we adults are just a bit tempted to jump into it when no one is looking, like we did when we were children!fall-leaves

Yes, I will admit, the colors are really pretty, and can be breathtaking, depending on where you go to see them. My husband likes to drive over to the mountains and enjoy the spectacular views. And they are pretty. But if it’s up to me, I’ll look at other people’s pictures on line and think how pretty they are, and then dream about how long it’ll be until it gets warm again.

Then there are the pumpkins. Everywhere. In store and even restaurant displays, and piled along those roadside stands. Some even have carved faces already, and yes, I’ve been tempted to buy a couple of them to carve, but our granddaughter isn’t old enough this year to appreciate them. (Next year!) I remember growing up and my uncle making the most beautiful jack-o’-lanterns. Over fifty years ago, he was painting faces and other designs on the pumpkins rather than carving them, because they’d last longer. He was certainly ahead of his time, and if he were still here today, I’m sure he’d still be doing it, only more elaborate.

And speaking of pumpkins, don’t you think the pumpkin craze is getting a bit out of hand now? I do like pumpkin pie, but pumpkin spiced coffee? Pumpkin glazed donuts? Pumpkin flavored pop tarts? Pumpkin flavored Oreos? Please, no……
However. There are a few things that I can appreciate about this time of year.

candy_0For one, there is a LOT of candy on sale right now. And I do like to keep my candy bowl on my desk filled with all kinds of wonderful chocolate candy bars, miniature ones of course, just in case I get an urge during the day for a quick pick-me-up! Chocolate can do that, you know. And I’m sure many of you reading this are like us, and buy your supply of Halloween candy based on what YOU like to eat, and not necessarily what the kids are going to want, so you can enjoy the leftovers! Is there any other way to buy it?

And I have to admit I do enjoy seeing the costumes the kids are wearing when they come to our door to get their candy. The little ones are always adorable, and this year I’ll certainly be looking at them in a different light, since next year our granddaughter will be old enough to be dressed up her own costume; maybe a ballerina, or a bumblebee, a princess, or maybe even a butterfly! Now that will be fun! Of course, I’m sure her daddy will want her to be dressed in camouflage, but I think Mommy and Grandmom will have the final say on that one…at least for next year!

pauline-and-fowler-halloween1951In fact, when I was growing up, most of us dressed up for Halloween, but very seldom in anything scary or spooky. My hometown had an annual Halloween parade, with several of the main streets blocked off so the participants could march around our little business district and the county courthouse. Children and adults paraded around streets in costumes and competed for prizes, and the streets were filled with onlookers. My aunt and uncle actually won first prize in the adult division one year, dressed as Raggedy Ann and Andy. Weren’t they looking sharp? (How many of you know who Raggedy Ann and Andy are?) And if memory serves me correctly, I think some of the local churches sponsored the parade and contributed the prizes!

I can’t remember the last time I saw a Halloween parade. But they were a lot of fun! At least to us kids, and the adults who still acted like kids. It was just a fun time to enjoy ourselves, and get candy, of course!
So I guess I’m sort of stuck with it being fall. I can’t change it, so I guess I have to make the most of it. I can wear my jeans and sweaters with my boots, enjoy our toasty fireplace with a glass of wine, and count the days until Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And I can remember that spring is, sort of, just around the corner!

An Empty Chair

For nine years there has been an empty chair at our holiday table. Although the actual chairs that are pulled up to the table may be filled with family and friends, there is still an emptiness at our table that will never be completely filled again.

Even though it’s now been nine years, it still feels empty…like my mother should be sitting there with us, talking and smiling, and eating her small portions of food like she did for so many years. (She never was a big eater, and I can honestly say I cannot ever remember her having seconds of anything, at any meal!)

Unfortunately in our family, like many others, these empty chairs have multiplied over the years. My father’s chair was the first to be empty in my family, 56 years ago. And it was followed over the years with both sets of my grandparents, numerous aunts and uncles, and close friends of our family.
Although we know that this is an inevitable part of life, part of what happens as we and our children grow older, it still doesn’t make it easier.

The first Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other special holiday dinner following the passing of our loved one is the most difficult, and many books, stories, poems, and even songs have been written about it. We’re advised to do something to honor their memory that year, to make it less painful. Sometimes is helps; sometimes it doesn’t.

But what about the subsequent years? Does the missing automatically stop? Of course not, but somehow the pain eases a bit with each year. The memories are there, the empty chair(s) is still a memory at the table; eventually there are enough empty chairs in our memory to fill an entire separate table.

If you look closely in your memories, you can still see each and every one of your missing loved ones, just as they used to be, happy and healthy and alive…all sitting at the table in the room with you. Joining you in your celebration in spirit, and especially in your heart.

Yes, there may be a chair, or several chairs, that are physically empty, but in our hearts those chairs will always be full.