It can be hard to celebrate what we have when the holidays are dominated with news of what we have lost.
On Thanksgiving, when Falmouth lost a beloved second-grade teacher I did not know, I mourned an absence that I had never counted on as a presence.
After Thanksgiving, when my in-laws lost a baby born too soon, I mourned a life that was only barely lived.
Just before Christmas, when Newtown, Conn., was attacked, I mourned the innocence that Adam Lanza stole: physical, in the form of 20 first-graders and their teachers, and intellectual, in the form of our country’s glib position on gun use.
As a mother of young children, there was never time to settle into the sadness or frustration or confusion those events sparked. She was still excited about her wish-list for Santa, and he still needed his diaper changed and his bottle prepared. The routine rolled us forward, from piano recital to pageant to party. I tried to maintain the split personality that parenting sometimes requires, layering whatever negatives were churning on the inside with an upbeat consistency on the outside.
Loss stings regardless of how directly it hits. These events happened around me, not to me; nevertheless, I became swept up in the emotion and the stories and the pictures and the anecdotes. I shared in the grief because it was all I could do.
And then I laid out cereal for breakfast and I packed lunches. I bought Christmas presents and I enforced time-outs. I read bedtime stories and I held tissues to runny noses. I played my normal role in the normal life of my normal family because it was all I could do.
Lurking in the background of our daily noise were the news broadcasts and the email chains, the Facebook posts and the on-line memorials. The sadness those missives contained could sucker-punch me during the most mundane of chores, the most rote of seat-buckling.
I had the nerve to consider myself challenged by the balancing act I felt I was performing. I had the gall to become fatigued by the self-regulation. I had the ego to dwell on how other people’s suffering was affecting me.
Fortunately, I only let my narcissism run rampant for so long. I finally began catching myself – a couple times a minute, several times a day – recognizing that whatever it was, it was not my tragedy. My sadness was only vicarious; for someone else, grief had become their all-consuming present and their constant future companion. They owned it; I only borrowed it.
Knock on forests full of wood, my family is healthy. My husband is home when he should be. I pick my children up from school and day care every day at the appointed time, and not because I’ve been summoned to rescue them from some emergency on the premises.
I do not know if I can accept that there is a silver lining to tragedy, but I believe we must look for the good in order to survive the bad.
This much I know is true: Kevin Grover’s family carries on with the arms of a community encircling it. My sister-in-law holds the memory of her baby boy in hands her family and friends help to cup. The families of the Newtown victims move forward on the shoulders of us all.
And that is precious.
Also this: I was able to watch my daughter participate in a holiday ceremony at her school. I felt frustrated by my son for biting me and then melted by his outstretched arms. I did not sleep enough one night because I was stuffing stockings. Each of those moments was special and wonderful and valuable simply because it happened. Same goes for the countless ones in between.
My New Year’s resolution crystallized before Jan. 1, and its subject is not healthier eating or improved fitness or less procrastination. It is to savor even what seems unsavory and to appreciate the under-appreciated. If for no other reason than that they are there, and I am here with them.
And that is precious.
Abby Diaz grew up in Falmouth and lives there again, because that’s how life works. She blogs at abbysleftovers.blogspot.com and hellogiggles.com/abby-diaz, and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Abby on Twitter: @AbbyDiaz1.