This post may cause a sleigh-full of side effects

It’s a fact of life that Death haunts us most around the holidays.

The loss of loved ones swirl around our everyday thoughts, landing indiscriminately at odd, inopportune times. There are few people in my circle of friends and family who do not struggle to some degree with the holidays, to push past grief  phantoms wearing chains that even Marley’s ghost would envy.

While watching TV recently, I found myself feeling jealous of a couple in one of those pharmaceutical commercials. You know the type I mean – happy, good looking people in some exotic vacation location who had struggled and overcome some chronic condition like scaly skin. Jesus – what’s wrong with me? I know this misplaced envy is not just about the actors skipping hand in hand across my television screen. It galls me that they can take a pill to improve their unhappy condition.

After my husband died a few years ago, I went on a mild antidepressant. I think they are helpful for many people. For me, though, they led to incredibly vivid dreams so realistic and involved I was left exhausted in the morning, and fearful of the next night’s sleep.  I weaned off of them, and went back to my simpler, albeit still very vivid dreams.

I made a decision last year to try and break my Groundhog Day cycle of unhappiness through more drastic means, and so moved to another part of the country this past summer. I knew intellectually I could not outrun grief. But I will say the change of scenery has helped me. (Visit: https://stantonwithau.travel.blog/).  I am trying to make new friends and connections, while still pining for old friends left behind in New England. Nothing is perfect.

But during the holidays, my resolve to keep at my daily mantra to count my blessings and find joy in my new town wear thin. The specter of Death still comes a’knockin’, having received my forwarding address.

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!” A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

And so this holiday season I watch with milder pangs as couples stroll down the beautiful main street of my Currier and Ives Virginia town – making plans, buying gifts, snuggling close to ward off the cold. I don’t wish to “drive a stake of holly through their hearts” to paraphrase Scrooge in the Dickens classic. I know moving forward does not mean forgetting. We just juggle the past with the present, and struggle to find that livable balance.

Life is made of ever so many partings welded together. Charles Dickens

In memorial

A few Memorial Day’s back I picked up the phone to hear my sister Anna greet me cheerily with, “happy dead person’s day!”

The opener totally resonated with me and my macabre sense of humor.  Anna, who has since passed, also had a no-nonsense, Charles Adams sensibility to life and death.

I don’t mean to dilute or insult the symbolism of Memorial Day.  We have lost so many who have served our country on foreign soils and many who are serving still and wait at the ready if we need them.

I’ve been thinking of my dad today, a man who served in “the big one” WWII.  His Army unit famously crossed the Bridge at Remagen before it collapsed into the Rhine in the closing weeks of that war.

Like most vets of that generation (and maybe most generations) he did not talk about his time there, but we all knew it impacted and chipped his psyche in a way we could never relate to.  He came back from Germany to his Kentucky coal mining community a bit emotionally damaged but buried it underneath the constraints of the time.  He married, fathered five children, and pioneered a better life in New England.  Over the years and especially after retirement, his demons or whatever he had tamped down for decades, would surface and we would rally around to ensure he was safe until the episode passed.

My parents now lie in a veteran’s cemetery in Florida.  My mom went first, and I remember her graveside ceremony clearly.  There is a tower there that plays military-themed chimes on the beautiful cemetery property.  As they lowered her into the ground, “Anchors Aweigh” chimed in the distance.  I had smiled to myself over that.  Again, that macabre sense of humor surfacing to rescue me from the mire of sadness such occasions bring.

Stag nation

One study reveals that almost two-thirds of people who resolve to get healthy and fit in the new year give it up.

I’m not surprised by that at all. Following the excesses of the holidays, there is a certain “buyer’s remorse” over all of the bacchanal behavior we gave no thought to while immersed in the season of oversharing, overeating and overspending.

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Give thanks

I’m spending Thanksgiving with my family like countless other Americans today.

For me it means getting on a plane and flying to Ohio or Tennessee to see my sisters’ and their families. We’re lucky. We all get along really well. It could be in part because we don’t spend much time together, but I prefer to think it’s just because we genuinely like each other.

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