The weather this Christmas Day here in upstate New York is miserable. Freezing rain has been falling all morning, glazing over an already thin and crusty layer of snow. It’s not welcome much on any day, and is the exact opposite of the picture perfect winter wonderland most people hope for on the holiday.
I, however, am quite content sitting inside my small, warm, comfortable house with my gas fireplace going, watching movies with my played-out cats sleeping around me. I made a nice Christmas breakfast for myself, had chocolate for lunch (too many Lindts from the local outlet), and will cook up a special dinner here shortly (salmon, asparagus, and sweet potatoes).
Mostly I feel just lucky and grateful to be here. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s another painful, sad, and difficult time for many people. I know this to be true: I’ve watched the mental health problems at the local hospital where I work as a nurse surge equally alongside Covid cases. Add in the state of the world in general, and it’s been a recipe for despair for so many.
It’s taken a long time, nearly twenty years, for me to even tolerate Christmas again. My mother (who I was very close to) died on December 23rd, when I was 22 years old, after a devastatingly short battle with breast cancer. She went in to the hospital one day just before my break from college, and passed only a couple of days later. Thankfully, I was home. Holidays thereafter were unsurprisingly painful; I never wanted to see a tree or have anyone wish me a “Merry Christmas” again.
But after a long while, I realized my mother would be sad if I continued holding Christmas as only a bad memory. Some of my best Christmas times were with her and my family, especially when I was really young. I wanted to still remember those fondly and not be sad; that’s what she would have wanted for me, too.
Gradually, I softened, and even though I’m still not a huge believer in the fantasy or magic of Christmas, I hold it now instead as a time to celebrate the winter season, be grateful for all the blessings in my life – my friends and family, work, health, my pets and home – and honor the memories I still hold dear.
This is also the first Christmas without my dog, Hannah. I had to put her to sleep in October; it was very sudden and unexpected, and I’m still not willing to write about it yet. The cats are fun and loving company, but it’s an understatement to say things are different without her around. But I’m doing okay, and keeping her memory with me today as I am so many others.
A friend living down south asked me earlier this week how I was doing. I didn’t even have to think about it much. Surprisingly, I am doing really well, I told her.
As an only child, I grew up differently than many kids, learning a kind of emotional self-sufficiency, independence, and resourcefulness. Don’t get me wrong; there were many times of feeling lonely and isolated over the years, especially during periods when I was suffering some great loss. But I also generally felt happiest, most relaxed and comfortable, when I was on my own.
That’s not a usual state of being for most people, I eventually realized, and have grown to accept that my state sometimes makes other people uncomfortable. Then they either want to help me, or decide there’s something weird or wrong with me.
At this point in my life, I don’t really feel obligated to make anyone feel better anymore. I’m very comfortable with myself, my good and bad, who I am and the journey to get here. It’s taken awhile to come to the point where I feel okay about feeling okay (if not better) about being alone most times. And I can probably thank Covid, in part, for it. As my friend said when I told her how I was doing, the pandemic has kind of normalized me (I think she meant it as a compliment).
Granted, I have continued to work outside my home (albeit in an often stressful environment, for almost two years now), have not suffered any economic hardship, and have tried very hard to stay healthy on my own through exercise, healthy eating, and all my creative projects. I am a big believer in stress management, taking responsibility for and taking care of myself, and not blaming everything on the world around me, or on anything that I can’t change.
All we can do is the best with time were given, as one of my favorite film characters (Gandalf, from The Lord of the Rings) said, and that’s what I plan to continue doing going forward. Despite my penchant for being by myself, I do hope that many people (the world really, but that’s pretty unrealistic), alone or partnered up, will consider joining me.