December 2019 has begun with blue skies and Christmas breeze, and with it the start of my birthday month celebration. This is has been my favourite time of year for as long as I can remember, and as I prepare to mark another anniversary of my birth, it is often a time for reflection on the year that has passed and the lessons learned. It has also for the past decade or so been a time for looking forward towards goals still to be accomplished, dreams to be realised and changes to be made to how I make my way through the journey of life. Although my heart still “leaps up” at the sight of the December blue sky, and the feel of the cool breeze on my hair and skin, this year feels different. There is a heaviness on my soul, and a fog around my heart that the blue skies and Christmas breeze have not been able to dissipate…
The fog and heaviness feels familiar because I have felt it before, but it feels unfamiliar because it is a feeling that I have come to associate with September and October, when the skies are heavy with gray clouds, and the rain makes it unpleasant to be outside. The gloomy weight that has settled on my heart I have come to associate with the anniversary of my father’s death…and I have come to accept it as part of the seasons and I get through it because I have the blue skies and clear days of December to look forward to. These are not my usual December feelings, but they are here, at my doorstep and will not go away.
So I have done what one does when unexpected guests turn up at your door. I have opened the door and invited the feelings in for a cup of tea and conversation. As I sit with unfamiliar to December feelings, I realise I recognise them as the aching sadness of missing people who are gone, the sadness of saying goodbye to the way things used to be, the sadness of unfulfilled expectations of how things could have been…in short the sadness of irreplaceable loss. Those familiar aches which I have tasted intermittently over the past years have this year been topped up this year with the sadness of anticipated loss of people I love, and of ways of being that have to change with the passage of time.
Over the years, I have become used to December without my father. This year, we will have to wrap our hearts around Christmas without my father-in-law. Last year brought us the novelty and excitement of preparing for my big daughter’s first solo plane trip, coming home from Canada for Christmas. While preparing for her coming home this year, it dawned on me that this will likely be my last Christmas with the little daughter at home for the whole month of December.. Next year, I will probably be cleaning two rooms, and making up two beds with freshly washed sheets in preparation for the homecoming of “children”. This December, my mother celebrated her 75th birthday on the other side of the globe with her siblings, and I will be celebrating my birthday without her in a few days time. I hope with all my heart that she and I celebrate many more birthdays, but I am all too aware that tomorrow is not promised to any of us. This December has arrived with blue skies, greenness of grass and trees, but the Christmas breeze has also brought with it a disruption of familiar and comforting ways of being that is unsettling.
As I sit with these unfamiliarly familiar emotions, I am reminded of a bookshelf that has had a set of books on it in a particular order for so long that there are marks on the shelf outlining the shape of that arrangement. Beginning with the loss of my father 13 years ago, books have been disappearing from that shelf : some have gone never to be returned, some are temporarily loaned out, and return, only to be loaned out again. So now there are very obvious gaps in the bookshelf. Perhaps what is needed is to is rearrange the books that remain in a different configuration that makes the missing ones less conspicuously absent but still retain the capacity to accommodate a returned or replacement book…and perhaps even a new book.
I know that one day I will need to take all the remaining books down, dust off the shelf to make the ghosts of the previous configuration less visible, and replace the books in a new configuration. Yet I am not ready to let go of the reminders of the past. The memories, as painful as they can be at times, are all that I have left of the beloved familiar books that used to live on my shelf. The gaps remind me of how things used to be, even as they invite me to fill them with new volumes. Perhaps one day I will be ready to clean and re-arrange my bookshelf, but for now in those gaps live the memories of the people and ways of being that are no longer present in my life. Those memories fill the space left by the missing, and sustain me through the sadness until I can get to a place where the December blue skies once again bring me lightness of heart unfettered by the weight of the missing.