On Family, Festivities, Loss and Unutterable Anguish

December is probably the most difficult month of the year for me, and for many others. For several reasons. The one uppermost in my mind is negotiating the complicated dance of challenging family dynamics. Holidays are supposed to be a time where families can come together and celebrate, rejoicing in the abundance of love and shared memory that make such seasonal festivals worthwhile. It is not about the presents. It’s about the company, the songs, the special foods, and the reaching out to others less fortunate. Watching movies like “It’s a wonderful life”, “A Christmas Story”; reading “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, and Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”. It’s about lighting the Chanukah candles, eating latkes, and preparing “my Jewish mother’s plum pudding”. When my husband and I were first married, we decided to start our own December traditions. Having grown up in a home that was not overly abundant in family bonds of affection, I chose to start enlarging our table to include people who would be otherwise alone over the season. I did not want our own children to grow up feeling as isolated. I wanted them to know what it was to reach out. Perhaps I went about it in a clumsy fashion, but the intention was there nonetheless. We sang carols and went to extended care facilities and hospitals, wassailing our way up and down the streets. More often than not, we came home feeling richer than when we started out. The simple act of reaching out and loving without expectation left an indelible stamp upon our hearts.

We still hold to the same traditions. Our own sons are adults with families of their own. Life has not turned out the way I had hoped- I do not have the joy of family gatherings at festival times of year. Not by my own choice. But I will continue to reach out to those who are wounded at this time. It is our joy, and our shared sorrow that bind us together.  And I am reminded that family is not always made up of individuals sharing the same DNA. So off we go to spend the feast day with treasured friends. I rejoice, exulting in the words of Tiny Tim- “God bless us, everyone”.

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