Life Changes and Your Holiday Traditions Can Too
We are often reminded that this life is all we have. There are no guarantees of tomorrow or beyond. Look around you. Do you appreciate what you have? Do your friends and family know how much they mean to you? If you aren’t sure, there is no time like the present to make sure.
Many years ago, a life event changed our family. A stroke almost took my mother from us and life as we knew it was forever changed. The winter holidays would never be the same. All the traditions that we spent decades building had to be replaced with new traditions. Finding myself with a little extra time on Christmas Day and on New Years too was hard. But, it was an opportunity to reflect and, a time to be grateful. This is the story of how I found joy in the changes.
- Mom, Do You Believe In Angels?
I know there are Angels around us. This is the story of our family's journey through my mother's stroke.
Reality, gratitude, and the healing of old wounds
Our family had to adapt to life after the stroke. In the days and weeks after the stroke, I began to think about friends and family that meant so much to me. Life had once again taught me an important lesson. At any moment in time, the people I love could be taken from me and I wasn’t sure they knew how much I loved them. It was time for me to fix that. I had reached the age when I knew I had more days behind me than I did ahead of me and I wasn’t willing to let time run out. Regret was not something I was willing to live with, not even for a minute.
It started with a list of those I had lost touch with and, for a variety of reasons, had left with some degree of conflict. When you’re young, you think it doesn’t matter that some minor conflict takes you in a different direction than your friends or family. Suddenly you find yourself older and wiser and you are tired of dragging that baggage around. It’s time to unpack the suitcase and deal with what comes out.
Over the next few months, I got in touch with every person that I felt I had judged or neglected. I cannot tell you how healing it is to apologize and mean it. In some situations, I still felt I had been right but my choice to end the relationship had been wrong. These were people I had shared my life with. We had laughed together, gotten foolishly drunk together, shared concerts and sunsets and in some instances, had shared our deepest secrets with each other. They were people that had helped me grow as a person. They had been my teachers.
Once I had worked my way through the list, it was as if the weight of the world had been lifted. The anger that had lived in my heart for so long was replaced with a sense of peace and true joy. What a gift!
Turning sadness into joy
Shortly after completing my list, I had to face the first Christmas since my Mom’s stroke. Our holidays would be different this year as we adapted them to my Mom’s mobility and stamina. The traditions we had maintained for centuries would no longer work. It was a difficult time but we had no choice. Creating new traditions left me with a little extra time over the holiday season. Having become acutely aware of how quickly life can change, I wanted to make that extra time meaningful.
While having quite the pity party for myself and feeling quite alone, I heard the answer loud and clear. My new tradition would give me joy but more importantly, I hoped it would bring unexpected joy to someone else. My spare time during the holiday would be spent writing a letter to some of the pivotal people in my life, telling them why they meant so much to me. I would open my heart and let my love for them flow through me onto the paper.
The start of a new tradition
These would not be ordinary letters. They would be stories about the feelings imprinted on my memory from the times we had shared. I would reveal to the recipient the lessons I had learned from them and what characteristics I saw in them that had made me a better person for having known them. These would be letters of the heart.
This has been my tradition now for the past thirteen years. It is a tradition I look forward to now as it has given new meaning to the season for me. Throughout the year I find myself thinking about who the next recipient will be but I am always surprised when I sit down to write the letter.
This process has become a ritual, a ceremony of sorts in which I celebrate the life of someone I love or admire. Before beginning, I sit quietly, reflecting on the faces and events that have been a part of my journey over the past year. During that time of reflection, the recipient of my letter is revealed to me and is rarely who I thought it would be. They are defined by the realization that what seemed most memorable at the time, wasn’t at all. Time has a way of changing the landscape and we find that our first impression or reaction to a situation is rarely accurate. It takes time for those precious moments to reveal themselves completely.
Love doesn't exist until you give it away
The reaction to my letters has been amazing and has proven over and over again that even though our lives are intertwined and complex, we rarely share our hearts completely with each other. But to do so, forms a bond that is infinite. When you share your sincere feelings and true self to someone you care about, you give a gift that cannot be duplicated. It carries no price tag but what you receive in the giving is invaluable.
This life, is the only one we have and this moment could be our last chance to share our heart, to say thank you to someone who has made us who we are. I cannot wait to write my letters this year. Even with so much pain and sorrow in the world today, I know my holidays will be filled with joy and gratitude.
Yes, our family traditions have changed but these new and more simple traditions are even better than the old ones. They are the traditions of the heart, and our gifts are – love.