Monday, December 26, 2011

Hanging with Al and Shirley

My husband's father passed in 1983, quite unexpectedly, the day after spending a glorious Christmas with his loving family.  It had been the first Christmas I spent with my yet-to-be-in-laws ~ the only one that I'd spend with Al.  My husband is the youngest of four children, and by the time I came on the scene, there were already spouses and grandchildren added to  mix.  I have just one sister, and she didn't yet have a spouse or children, so the Meyer family Christmas seemed like a circus to me.  Their family defied what I'd heard from my other friends in large families; lots of bickering, complaining and taking sides.  This family Christmas felt truly joyous and harmonious, not just people on their best behavior for one day.  I envied their high energy.  And David's father, Al, was the epitome of a kind, loving, generous family man.

It was surreal, then, to be thrust, on the very next day, into the depths of fear, sadness...and finally grief with these same people. My husband and his Dad had been out shoveling snow when the heart attack came....and Al passed on later that day.  Looking back, I might have thought, "this is it, then.  This is when the truth about this seemingly loving family comes out."  Immersed in the intensity of the moment, of course, I didn't think that at all, and it would have been a wasted thought anyway.  The same family that had hekd each other in joy, came together in grief, supporting and loving each other in kindness and with tenderness.  I realize now that this was Al's legacy to his family, and whenever they are holding each other in such grace and tenderness, he is with them. 

Al's passing was nearly thirty years ago, and while there have been family tensions and arguments, I am still inspired by the ones I now call my "in-loves," rather than my in-laws.  We have scatted like the wind around the country, and we didn't spend this holiday together, not in the Physical, anyway.  Truly, they are all in my heart ~ on Christmas and always.

Last week, as I was pulling the Cristmas (reduce! reuse!) gift bags out, I found some that still say "To Cheryl From Mom" on them.  I can't bear to remove those tags.  I did, however, remove the tissue paper from one (reuse!), and I found a gift card that she had given me on her last Christmas.  "How sweet," I thought.  She is still giving me gifts. 

I always felt sorry for people, like my in-loves, who lost a loved one at a holiday time, thinking it would surely be impossible to ever enjoy the day ~ whatever day ~ completely again. My mother's date of transition didn't fall on any holiday, but her birthday is December 24. Christmas was always a special time for us, especially after she moved to California to be near me and her grandchildren. So Christmas time is still I time that I think about her a lot, and I miss her especially.

What I realize now, however, is that neither the day nor time affects how much you miss a loved one on a holiday. There are simply particular points on each trip around the Sun when a departed loved one is more prominently on your mind and in your heart.  FInding that gift card made me realize that this is more than a sentimentality.  I believe our departed loved ones know when we need them most, and they truly are with us.  That's why we feel so much more emotion on such days.  It's not that we are "missing" them more at those times, but that we are actually feeling their Presence.  I'm glad to have spent some time with my mom this Christmas. I'm looking forward to spending today with Al.