New Years Day
"All is quiet on New Year's Day. A world in white gets underway. I want to be with you, be with you night and day. But nothing changes on New Year's Day."
This song from Bono and U2 first played for me when I was 20 and Christmas had just passed. I had the album, so as I was driving the slightly slippery bluff roads of Wisconsin in January of 1983, I knew the song. I knew it was suppose to be a song about Polish Solidarity but it still seemed more like a love song. It became a song of loss to me. As I drove along the cold hard salty back road it sang to my heart about my father. My father had been gone for over five years by then. It still hadn't sunk in that I would never see him again. Not on earth this lifetime at least. Our paths had crossed and he had moved on, leaving me alone and fatherless and in despair over what that meant. I kept thinking he might come home some Christmas, that it would be a big joke. But nothing changes come New Year's Day.
Please click on the U2 video and read on while it plays...
Now I add my mom to that list, nearly 25 years later. New Year's Day inevitably plays around this holiday. It is a very popular song, even now, and fitting of an emotion and time in our lives when we feel the sadness of the losses of the previous year and look optimistically on what we hope will be a better next year. I like the song but this time of year it is bittersweet. It makes me long for younger days when Christmas morning consisted of both parents and both sisters and I didn't even realize we wouldn't all be together for always. The song captures, for me, that innocence but drives it painfully home now that I'm aware how short and precious time really is.
Christmas in some ways was my mom. She was the ghost of Christmas present year after year. She had a way of seeing the good things in all things, as a person should try to do during the holiday. She was the bright beacon that led us back home season after season to share this special time of the year with each other. There were a few winters after I left home that I didn't think I could get back because of bad weather but we always did.
This was the first Christmas I didn't spend with my mother. At least not in her physical presence. This was felt by all of us in the family. It is a time for family and joy but that joy is hard earned when your mother is not even gone 90 days yet. That the hallmark of Christmas, the gathering of us older adults to have some coffee or cocoa and talk about some of the Christmases past was gone. My mom was the anchor for that. I find now, that I often wake up alone to write early in the morning and as I make some morning coffee, I think about my mom. I have a cup with her although we talk silently now. And most of the time I guess I realize it is me just having a conversation in my head alone. But sometimes... I wonder if she doesn't whisper to us. If we listen.
Christmas 2009 was pretty difficult. 2009 was pretty difficult. But it was also a very joyous year. We all learned a lot about ourselves, including my mother and we all learned quite a bit more about what we were to each other. That wasn't always an all for one thing either. We learned that we have human frailties and that we expect too much from each other sometimes. We realized that when we don't think we can do something, we can. We realized what an extraordinary person our mother was. I was inspired about how she could die without any regrets, save maybe more time to spend with us. I couldn't really say the same. I realized in 2009 how much I felt like I lived for others and how that really doesn't work for anyone. I learned about some ways I mistreat people or don't appreciate certain things like I should. Like being able to do the dishes, which my mom longed to do again and I still procrastinate about - even though I do get the joy of it. I just tend to spread the joy there a little bit!
2009 was one of the hardest years any of us had gone through. But as it was the last year with one of the most precious souls earth has given us, it was an honor to bare that burden. I think now that she is gone, all of us realize the truth of that. It might have been a bad year but it was the last year of our mother living amongst us. It will be a year we long for on many coming New Year's Days. And as I painfully now after 25+ years of hearing that song and associating it with the feeling of loss, that doesn't change come New Year's Day.
So now a new year again presents itself. I feel there is a danger in dismissing and insulting or thinking only of the bad parts of a bad year. As there were so many moments we all had that were beautiful moments. Moments that can only be shared during hard times. Moments that those of us still alive will take forward with us. Moments that bond those of us who plowed through the ups and downs of watching my mother give into this world like a dancing feather drifting towards the ground. Our mom showed us that death can have some grace and that you don't have to be brave about it or upbeat about it or even accepting of it. I guess she showed you can just be yourself and accept the help of those you helped now that you are growing weaker and weaker to no fault of your own. It is one of those circle of life things. She took care of us when we were helpless and we returned the favor. The best we could. Some days we did that better than others. But we came together and we made 2009 one of the best years mom ever had. She certainly saw more of the people she loved last year than any year before it. She knew during that time how much love surrounded her. That should be a happy memory not a sad one.
It was appropriate to morn some over Christmas even though she would've maybe wanted more smiles and good cheer. It was too close to her being alive. Too many memories of our final Christmas with her. I think we did pretty good. The new generation of kids are starting to present themselves and us kids now find we have the job our mother used to hold. Those are some big shoes to fill. As I drink this morning's coffee and write and think about all those coffee mornings I had with my mom, I can *feel* her somewhat from the combinations of memories. It's negative three outside and not much warmer in my heart sometimes. But I know my mom wants us to be happy. So I let the coffee warm my heart as I keep her in there and think about all those mornings. I hope my sisters and family and all of the people who desperately miss Elaine or their own lost family members can do the same. I think the departed appreciate a few tears but they would be greatly saddened if their end of life was looked upon as some kind of end of our own lives. I know I wouldn't want that if I was there instead of here. I'd want my memory to be honored by those I loved living well and being happy. Time is short.
Nothing changes on New Year's Day is true. It speaks to the fact that once someone we love dies we are robbed from that direct contact. But something does change each New Year's Day. We do. In the directions of our own choosing. We decide what to do with the loss. We need to think about what those we loved would want for us. And honor that. For them and ourselves, we need to honor their desires for us. To live on well for them. To keep them in our hearts. We can get better each year at that. We can begin again.