Living


Tonight is Christmas Eve and I find myself facing the first Christmas in recent memory, maybe ever, that I wish was over before it began. I’m not bah humbug, nor am I falling apart sad. I am just not feeling it. Not interested. Indifferent.

Part of it has to do with the loss of both of my parents this year.  Those of you who read my piece on Stages of Grief know that they died at ages 67 and 65 within 20 days of one another in April.  He from a stroke and she from cancer.  Loss and Christmas can be difficult to reconcile.

Part of it has to do with watching one of my children struggle with the first sober Christmas and all that entails for the addict that is turning their life around. I remember that feeling from my first sober Christmas a number of years ago and I wish this child well.  Sobriety, depression and Christmas can be difficult to reconcile. 

Part of it has to do with having spent down the last of our savings and having had to borrow the money for our mortgage and Christmas presents this year while navigating the difficult bridge of having no predictable income or health insurance until January.  Financial uncertainty and Christmas can be difficult to reconcile.

And yet, in the midst of all of it, I have many things to be grateful for and there are millions of people on earth who have things far, far worse than we do. I am sitting in a warm home with a loving husband and three children who I love and who love me. I expect the first advance on my book to arrive in the mail any day now and I begin a new teaching job (with benefits) at the end of January, so there are good things on the horizon.  

Fortunately, hope and Christmas are not only easy to reconcile–they go hand in hand.

So, this is a shout out to all of the people for whom Christmas festivities are feeling like more of an assault than a gift. Those who are doing their best to go through the motions because of grief, or empty bank accounts or trying to stay away from a drink or a drug.  Let’s have a Merry Christmas anyway and pray for an even happier New Year.

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Both of my parents died six months ago. It was April.  My mom from cancer that she’d been battling for a couple of years. My father from a stroke that took him in 5 days.  He went first.  Twenty—or was is 22—days before his wife of 46 years.  They were young by today’s standards.  Sixty-five and Sixty-seven. 

I’ve cried a few times.  Quickly.  Quietly.  Willing but not quite able to muster the turning-the-corner-into-anger sort of tears that would signal my official descent into the widely accepted stages of grief. 

I’ve purposely not spent too much time reacquainting myself with the stages of grief.  Rather than stack the deck against myself by the power of suggestion, I figured I’d allow the emotions and memories to gather together like raindrops on windowpane, linking together slowly, one by one, until their combined weight was enough to draw them downward.

Then, earlier this week, I started to see my parents everywhere.  “Doesn’t Sarah Palin look a little bit like my mother when she was younger?” I asked my husband.  He did his best to mask the not-really tone in his voice “Well…maybe a little.”

Drip.

Walking down the street toward my favorite writing café, I saw a man in the distance that I could swear was my dad.  He wore a baseball cap over his blonde-gray hair and had his hands in the pockets of a Members Only-style baseball jacket.  There was something in his slightly curved posture and sporty white sneakers that brought him home for a moment. But only for a moment.

Drip.

When I found myself in a state of unsettled sensory-overload last night, I figured I was just tired.  I’ve been staying up too late and I teach early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I figured I just needed a good night’s sleep.

Drip.

Then I started to snap at my husband and the drummer for our band because they were having trouble nailing a rhythm.

Drip.

And today I find myself wearing this kind of free-floating anger-at-everything-and-nothing-at-once like a heavy, scratchy and damp wool blanket.  I am not fighting it.  I am confident that this anger will weave its way toward acceptance in time.  All I can do is pray for strength and do my best to be loving toward the people while I make my way through what I know is a painful but healthy process of gathering them close so I can let them go.   

Whoosh…   

I find myself in the exciting, yet precarious position of having everything I ever wanted…except for money. I have a fantastic marriage to a talented artist and musician who is, hands down, my best friend.  I have three healthy and mostly happy children who, at ages 19, 18 and 10, are constantly growing and changing and becoming the people that they are meant to be.  I live in a 100 year-old home that is ripe with the kind of character that comes from slightly crooked ceilings, original moldings and recently repaired plaster walls. I am an adjunct professor at a welcoming University and a writer whose work is slowly but surely finding an audience.  I play the bass in my husband’s Spanish rock band and I have good friends who are interesting and creative.  

All in all, in the midst of historic economic uncertainty, I am living just the kind of relaxed, avant-garde lifestyle I’d aspired to when I was an idealistic kid.  Back before I abandoned these dreams to go out and make some money, 

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against money.  And, when I was a single mother with two kids, I needed money to pay the rent, put food on the table and build a life for my fractured little family.  

So I did. 

And, as one job led to another, I went from living paycheck-to-paycheck to actually having a little more than I needed to keep my head above water.  Things got even better when I met and married my husband Martin. A Uruguayan immigrant who’d shelved his own artistic aspirations in exchange for a body-crushing but lucrative job in the construction industry, he went from working full-time making $10 a day at age 15 to building a profitable small business.

As our careers took off and our coffers filled, our quest for the American Dream began to take shape.  Sure, we noticed that there was less and less time to do the things we loved, but we thought that was just the price of growing up and getting ahead. 

I can’t pinpoint the moment when we crossed the line from working-to-live to living-to-work—or when accumulating things took priority over having time to relax or create or spend unencumbered time with our kids.  But cross that line we did. 

The houses got bigger, the investments more substantial and our dreams of a simple, creative life became a distant memory. We worked all the time and were dead tired when we were off.  But somehow it seemed like working ourselves into the ground was a fair exchange for the security, prestige and stuff that came with having a healthy disposable income. 

The money that had once served our needs had somehow become our master. 

So, about five years ago, we made a change.  Stepping out in faith, we took some bold steps, left our careers and began to pursue our passions.  As a result, we have more time, more peace and a lot less money.  We haven’t taken a vow of poverty. We’re actually quite hopeful that our new endeavors will bear monetary fruit one of these days.  But if they do, I believe we’ll handle it far, far differently.