As we recover from the New Years Eve hangovers, pack away the holiday decorations, and start to go back to a normal routine, many of us may find it difficult to get back into the swing of things. This year with the holidays falling on weekends, I know I felt like what is supposed to be a time of celebration and peace, was instead draining and unrelaxing.
Beyond the stress and physical exhaustion, I found myself a bit overwhelmed by the pain of those around me and in the world at large. With unemployment in the United States hovering around 9%, and endless stories of financial distress in Europe, I cannot help but wonder of those that will be sleeping out in the cold this January, and of the families that over-stretched themselves during the holidays, and are now feeling the pressure that comes with that.
When I saw photos of my friend Nina in the hospital and heard of how much pain she was in, my heart sank a little to know that an artist that I admire so much is suffering and could barely walk.
I thought of my cousin Kim and her family. Her husband Ben is suffering from cancer and is beginning to undergo his final and most aggressive round of chemotherapy. Because of his illness, he has not been able to work, and with Kim being a school-teacher and they having three young children, paying bills is becoming more and more difficult. The financial stress though is only part of the emotional turmoil that cancer has brought to their home.
I was reminded of Christmas day last year, when my family met at the hospital to check out my grandmother. She had been in with pneumonia, which she had in both lungs and was having trouble breathing. She was being released Christmas day, and while she was upset to have missed the family’s Christmas Eve dinner and candlelight service at Church, she was relieved that she was not going to miss the holiday all together. Even though she was allowed to go home, the doctors had found additional spots on her lung x-rays, which we found out later was lung cancer that would end up taking her from us just two months later. So I was reminded again of the loss of our matriarch.
I went back to look at photos from that Christmas day in the hospital. I had snapped two back to back. On of my grandmother, still in her robe and hospital gown sitting in a chair as we waited for the paperwork to be finished. The second of my father sitting in the windowsill right behind her. I remembered someone commenting to me that they both had the same look on their faces. And they do. It is a stoic expression that is stern and at the same time patient and kind. I look at they way they hold themselves. Even though she is worried, exhausted, and still having difficulty breathing, she sits in her hospital chair with poise and grace, as if it was her thrown. And even though her hair isn’t curled the way she likes it, and she isn’t wearing the red holiday sweater that would prefer over the robe, and the frailty of old age is overtaking her, she looks regal.
I look at my father who wears that same stoic expression, and sits up straight with is arms crossed. He is scared that he’s about to loose his mother, which he is. He is stressed about how to take care of her and his father. He is anxious to get to the Christmas party with the family, because he knows that, however temporary, it will bring joy to everyone to celebrate his mother’s return home with the whole family. And yet, he too waits for the hospital’s paperwork with gravitas.
I see these photos and feel blessed. My grandmother taught her son this virtue and I feel renewed and lucky that he has passed it along to me.
My family decided not to exchange Christmas gifts this year. Instead we gave the money we would have spent on presents to Kim and Ben, so that as they struggle through their hardships this January, at least one part will be a little easier.
My friend is home and recovering well. She took photos of herself in the hospital. She told me loves photographs of people in the hospital. They are so real.
How true. It is photos of people in the hospital that taught me to realize that maybe I need to just take some moments of reflection to see the celebration and joy that the holidays really did bring, and that I can start this new year with a sense of peace after all.