Holidays can be hard. Sometimes painful. We have so many pictures in our minds of how perfect it can be, should be:
Large, laughing families gathered around the table on Thanksgiving Day.
Starry-eyed children opening Christmas presents at Grandmas house.
Yet too often, it’s not like that at all. Too often, for so many reasons, we can’t be with the ones we love. Divorce, addiction, death, and other demands and obligations keep them from us. When it happens too often, when our happy expectations are thwarted again and again, we begin to dread holidays.
When I begin to feel this way, I try to remember the old maxim: “If you can’t be with the ones you love, love the ones you’re with.”
It doesn’t mean we stop missing our missing loved ones. But we don’t let missing them keep us from loving and enjoying who and what we have right now. Whenever I’m mindful enough to draw upon that wisdom, it works like a charm.
For Thanksgiving this year, I expecting a full house: My daughter and son-in-law, my son and his girlfriend and her little boy. For us, that would be a big family gathering! I bought a 22-pound turkey and all the trimmings so there would be plenty to last a couple of days and still be able to send left-overs home when everyone took off.
But then my daughter called to say they couldn’t get away after all this year. And then my son’s girlfriend got sick and they couldn’t come. At first I was bitterly disappointed. I had been looking forward to this day and preparing for it for so long. The thought of just three of us sitting down to eat a huge meal seemed sad and lonely.
But then I remembered: Love the ones you’re with. And I thought, could anything be more perfect than this? Our son, alive and well, spending Thanksgiving day with us?
There were only three of us that day, sharing a bounty of food. But it was one of the sweetest and most peaceful Thanksgivings we’ve ever had. We all felt that.
Now as Christmas is approaching, the old anxieties are surfacing as well. I have two young, beautiful grandchildren that I rarely get to see, and probably won’t see this year either. It hurts my heart to miss out on watching them grow up, or being a part of their lives. to grandmother them the way I had always imagined doing. It’s equally hard on my son. He’s so full of guilt and remorse. A difficult time for both of us.
But we will be spending Christmas with a little boy. My son’s girlfriend and her three-year-old son will be spending the holidays with us. He’s a sweet child who calls out “Grandma!” with wide open arms when he sees me. I was so surprised when he first did that. Flattered, actually. And worried. I didn’t want to correct him and hurt his feelings or his mother’s. He has no grandma of his own.
I think: What can it hurt? He so wants a grandma. I so want to be one.
But it can hurt. It can hurt a lot. I know how much.
You need to protect your heart, I tell myself. And his as well. We don’t know how long we will be in each others’ lives. We don’t want to fall in love with each other only to lose each other in the end, as I’ve already lost my real grandchildren.
If I let myself fall in love with this little boy, and he’s snatched away from me like they were, can I bear that? Can I go through that again?
I can, I’ve decided.
If I can’t be with the grandchildren I love, I’ll love the child I’m with. Even if we have only this one Christmas together, I’ll love him as only a grandma can, for as long as I’m able.
May we all spend this holiday season loving the ones we’re with.