A Christmas to Remember
“Both formerly and now, it is only suffering that I describe,
and the cessation of suffering.”
I have many wonderful memories of Christmas holidays in my life – the hours of unwrapping presents in my childhood home with my parents, my father saying about a hundred times, “Don’t let the dog out!”, playfully arguing with my brother over who was going to distribute presents, eating WAY too much stuffing and the long hugs in the driveway before we drove away.
But those days are gone and now only exist in my memories. A few days ago, my daughter texted me a bunch of photos from one of those lavish and joyous Christmas days. It was my late husband’s last Christmas and he looked so happy as he dug out his little gifts from his Christmas stocking. It was a bittersweet moment to see these photos and remember how holidays used to be.
Now, my late husband, Chris is gone; my parents are gone; and my daughter has her own family and unfolding traditions. Does this sound familiar? Holidays are often a difficult time for us retired folks. We may have lost loved ones and we miss the familiar traditions that may no longer be a part of our lives. We may feel lonely, sad or even depressed.
This year, Jim and I decided to do something different in order to avoid dwelling on the past. We put our dogs into boarding and headed down the East Coast. We stayed away from the interstate highways and took the coastal route, with Jacksonville as our final destination to spend Christmas day with Jim’s son, Billy. I had never been to Charleston, South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia so we stopped in each city long enough to take walking tours and enjoy a little southern culture. We had a great time, creating new memories and savoring the opportunity to do this – something we would never have been able to do during holidays past. As we drove home a week later, I revisited some of the new memories I had from this trip and felt a sense of gratitude that I was able to be fully engaged in my new holiday experiences. No, Jim and I didn’t spend hours watching eager, little children open presents, and no, I didn’t cook a lavish meal for the family. But for the first time, I didn’t look back with wistfulness. Instead, I drank in what this holiday offered to me and I felt a new sense of peace. The reality for people over the age of 60 is that our lives have changed. Holidays are an opportunity to reflect on our pasts with gratitude, create new opportunities for happiness, and look forward to our futures.
I decided to solidify my new Christmas memories of 2016 by making a list of the moments that are joyous for me. Maybe this exercise is just what you need too!
- The pleasure of waving to Billy and Ben from my hotel balcony as they walked on the beach below me.
- In a similar vein, the fun of waving to a wiggly Santa Claus, as he flew by my hotel balcony in a motorized para-sail.
- The reckless abandon of eating several biscuits and gravy for breakfast – a real, Southern tradition!
- Feeling amazed by the raised lighthouse on the bay in Edenton, North Carolina.
- Seeing and hearing the horse and buggies clip clop on the cobblestone streets in both Charleston and Savannah – with their drivers in Santa Claus outfits.
- The “oohs and ahs” of looking through the iron gates of stately southern mansions to see gorgeous Christmas wreaths decorating colonial doors and windows.
- Holding hands with Jim as we enjoyed our leisurely strolls around Charleston and Savannah.
- Enjoying the freedom of watching Ben cook and serve our delicious Christmas ham dinner.
- Feeling proud of Billy’s growing maturity and responsibility.
- Loving the wind in my face on Jacksonville Beach.
- Smiling at the sight of our Grey Goose Cottage when we finally returned home in our little slice of paradise!
This has been a rough year for many of us. Learning to appreciate each moment with joy and gratitude may help us create the best memories we’ve ever had.
When You Are Old
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.