Holiday Grief

red christmas ball decorationAt the risk of sounding Scrooge-like, I contend the holiday lights and deep-discount sales and piped-in Bing Crosby carols that commence with an onslaught the day after Halloween serve as distractions for what is, without doubt, the least wonderful time of the year.

Everywhere, it seems, there is forced cheer, a rush to celebrate–what exactly?

Beyond the crass commercialism of the season, I think the glittery expectations mask something deeper. It wasn’t until half-way through Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri that it came to me—grief. This movie, phenomenally acted and filmed, is a study in grief and futility, of the ends people take to alleviate despair. It’s a brave film because it lays naked the sadness and anger and fear we, as a society, fear to show and name.

My grief becomes manifest when the days shorten and the temperatures dip. In the past, I’ve written how I welcome winter as a time to turn inward. But this year, things feel darker. Perhaps it is the accumulated memories of relatives, including my grandparents and father, who died this time of year. (My father’s death anniversary is a full moon that throws me in a deep, irritable funk). Perhaps it is the realization this is likely my mother’s last Christmas. Perhaps it is the haunting of a friend’s teenage daughter who took her own life last month. Perhaps it is the rapid dismantling of our country’s values on a nearly daily basis. Perhaps it is all of the above, and then some.

There are inklings others feel the same—it seems there are more face book posts with suicide hotline numbers, more food and clothing drives for those less fortunate. A grief akin to tenderness. All I know is I feel alone, which makes me feel small and vulnerable and lost. But rather than deny this discomfort, perhaps it is best to embrace these uncomfortable feelings and howl my grief for all I have lost and all I will never have.

And then, when I’m done blubbering, I will be able, again, to pound out dough and unreel wrapping paper and smile like I mean it. Because I will.

Tell me, how are you handling these days?


Small Stuff

coffeeAfter many years of grief and, yes, trauma, this last year has been a reservoir of peace, and for this, I am thankful. Perhaps the peace come from my attitude, newly grown from meditation and increasing age. Maybe it is the vantage point of seeing things in the long run and being able to put ‘stuff’ in context. Maybe it’s finding this strange energy that fuels me to build on the small moments: a mug of coffee on my winter deck, a view of Baltimore from the top of Federal Hill, watching my daughter hug her friend. Or maybe it’s the way my puppy snuggles back-to-back when we sleep. Maybe it’s the calming down of heart and mind to find a silent few minutes to write at my desk, the sun slanting in to greet my words as they birth.

I don’t know. I just feel peace and, yes, some joy, and damn it, I am going to hang on to these feelings as long as I can.

So today, I will keep singing as I make my pies and cranberry relish, as the turkey starts smelling up the house, making my animals circle around my legs, whining.

So before I open my emails, before I read the news and see what destructions have spattered people and places, before I open facebook and twitter and my forums to find personal tragedies revealed, I will keep this intention:

Be thankful.

For the small moments.

THEY are life.




Pink coatEvery now and then an angel visits me and reminds me to be kinder. Monday morning arrives. Not any Monday morning but the Monday morning after the end of daylight savings, which means the congratulatory, almost giddy relief of an extra hour of sleep has worn off. I wake cranky and brain-fogged yet fully aware I have a too-full day yawning before me. The metro arrives, I find a seat by myself, and we pull away from the station. After two weeks of ‘single-tracking’, which means hour-plus commutes and crowded trains, this fact equates to a small miracle. The car is quiet, everyone on their phones or in their books, and the sky is lighter than before.

We go underground. After we pause at the first station, a loud slapping noise. A woman holding open the train door. This action: 1) makes a lot of noise; 2) delays the train; and 3) sometimes disables the car, which means everyone disembarks and waits forever until the train is manually pulled away and a new train arrives. We all yell at this woman keeping the door open. The conductor yells at her. And then another woman slowly makes her way down the escalator and into the car.

“I’m sorry,” she says to everyone in the car, and settles somewhere behind me. I’m irritable now, and can’t concentrate on the paper I’m reading so I play an idiotic game on my phone. Two stops later, someone settles beside me.

“Thank you,” she says.

I look up. It’s the woman who came late into the car.

“For what?” I ask.

“For making room for me.”

I wonder if she means room on the seat, or room in the car, or something larger, more metaphorical.

“It’s a two-seater,” I say, and we both kind of laugh.

We talk. She has a cane. She’s afraid of falling because she’s nauseous all the time. “It’s the medicines,” she says.

I take in her short-to-the-skull hair, the fact her stop is Hopkins, and I nod. “Cancer’s a bitch,” I say. She nods. Cancer is a bitch—and a bastard—and I tell her about my dad, and she tells me about her next and final round of chemo.

I tell her I like her coat. “It’s so pink, it brightens the day,” I say.

“That’s why I wore it,” she says.

My stop comes before hers. Trudging up the stairs at Lexington Market, I feel lighter. In these days of never-ending shootings and natural disasters and idiocies perpetrated by those in power, sometimes I forget that what might appear as a selfish gesture (one woman delaying a train by holding a door) may actually be an act of goodness. That my quick move to judgement may be wrong, and such inaccuracy contributes to the weariness and despair so much of us feel. The rest of the day I felt a tenderness toward everyone, a feeling that, in turn, made me more tender and open to the moment, and accepting it for what it is and not what it might be.

Welcome to my new digs. Come in, have a seat, share what’s happening in your writing, work, and personal lives. I’ll be hanging here for a while, and welcome any suggestions on how to better decorate. Peace…