This Christmas, everything in moderation

Here we are again, in the midst of my absolute favorite time of year: Christmas. The month of December, for me, is rich with childhood memories, and with memories of raising my own children. It always mattered a great deal to me to try to make everything perfect for our family – beautiful decorations, fabulous food, the perfect tree and the perfect gifts underneath it. “Perfect” was rarely achieved, but there was a year or two that I came pretty close.

I met a longtime girlfriend for coffee one day last week. She retired from teaching just two years ago. Sadly, her husband passed away unexpectedly in September. This will be the first Christmas she’s spent without him in 35 years. She is sad, afraid, dreading the day. Dreading all that goes with it. She asked me what she was going to do, what she was supposed to do without him?

I wish I could say that I offered her some profound words of wisdom, some saving advice, that would make her feel better, or at least less sad. I didn’t. I had none. I sat with her, and we sipped our coffee, and every now and then one of us would remind the other of long-ago memories, when our kids were little and our husbands were still here.

I will walk alongside my friend through this season. We will welcome her at our Christmas dinner table, if she wants to join us. She can call me at anytime, day or night, should she need to hear a friendly voice on the other end of the line. She may take me up on these offers, or she may sleep through as many December days as she possibly can. There are no wrong choices in her situation, only the choices she feels she can handle at the moment. There are times when it’s O.K. to take just one step, if that’s all you can do. The next one will come in its own time.

Our perspective changes as we begin to see age 55 or so in the rearview mirror. Our focus shifts from “perfection” at this time of year, to simple happiness and contentment. Family and loved ones are clearly more important than the trappings of the season. The desire to have little or no stress replaces the desire to shop, bake, see, eat, and experience everything, all the time. I’ve learned myself in the past few years to be present in the small things, because at the end of the day, those are actually the big things. 

If you are experiencing a major life change this season, as my dear friend is, give yourself some grace. Go easy on yourself. Relax your expectations. Say “yes” to events and invitations only when you really mean it. Take the time and make the effort to take care of yourself. Stay in the moment, because sometimes, the next moment is all you can handle, and that’s O.K. 

Come to think of it, that’s good advice for all of us. 

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