One of the most joyful things about the holidays is that it brings us together with those we love. Family traditions and celebrations are shared, old memories remembered and new ones created. We send cards, attend parties, prepare special meals.
There’s another side of the season that brings intense sadness to many of us. There are those with whom we cannot celebrate, either because they’ve died or because they’re no longer a part of our lives.
There’s an old saying about finding out who your true friends are when you’ve been down and out. I’ve been surprised at who has been there thru my toughest transitions. It wasn’t always the people who I would have guessed.
While it’s nice to realize that someone supports you, it can be equally hurtful to discover that someone who you thought cared about you actually does not have your back.
It’s not a simple trade off. People who are important to us cannot be replaced. They leave a painful space in our lives – and in our hearts. We might try to re-engage them, each unsuccessful attempt rubbing the edges of that empty space until it’s raw. Eventually, we might stop including them in order to avoid the disappointment we feel with each rejection.
But what about that space that is created by their absence? How do we reconcile that? It’s no good to walk around pretending to be complete when there is a gaping hole in your heart where someone used to be.
If someone we love has died, we are left alone to deal with the loss and to acclimate ourselves. Grief is a very personal journey. I try to live the fullest life possible, as though I am living it for my mother and for my friend, Carol. I do it for them because they are not here. In my mother’s honor, I carry out the traditions she taught me, passing them on to my children and my grandson. I still miss her, of course. But the hollow place she left is somewhat filled with things I know would please her.
When one of Carol’s children or grandchildren celebrate a milestone, such as a marriage, I am there to witness it and to celebrate. I experience it for her, because she cannot. I know that my presence shines a spotlight on her absence that must, at times, be a painful reminder. I am grateful that they include me and I feel close to her by remaining a part of her family.
But what of the space left by those who abandon us? Their intentional non-presence in our lives can be difficult because it is complicated. We might be left without a true understanding of why things turned out this way. We might be hurt that they weren’t there when we needed them or feel guilt at our own assumed misdeeds. It’s a harder loss to mourn because it is less final.
Suppose we use that empty, inner space to grow? Fill it with energy that creates something that expands us and fulfills us. Learn or create something new. Cultivate our awareness of the love of those who have stuck with us thru the bad times. There will always be those who stayed near when we were messy and unlovable. Later, there are people who will love us despite the scars left by our suffering. These are the people who value and respect us.
Give the gift of your presence to the ones who stayed, those who appreciate you in all your imperfect chaos. Give the gift of your absence to those who do not see you as valuable and worthwhile. Create your best life in the space they’ve left. Honor those who have lost their lives by living yours. Be there and do the things they cannot. Honor death by defying it.
Maybe we cannot fill the space, but we can replenish it. In the smaller space that remains, we can harbor hope that our loved ones will grant us grace. Fill that space with acceptance and peace. Fill that space with love.