I have years of happy, loud, fun memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I also have weighty ones of funerals and numbness and a vague awareness that I was supposed to compartmentalize my feelings to preserve my cheer or gratitude. Holidays are complicated. Life is complicated. Sometimes life seems as mean as it seems wonderful. On my optimistic days, that juxtaposition enhances the joy of being with loved ones and the joy of tradition. On my less optimistic days, it makes me feel like life is a slow, inescapable march of loss.
A friend whose parent had recently passed asked me once "How long does it take to get over it?" I wanted to give a pat, satisfactory answer, but I don't have one. Is "getting over it" anything more than an appeasement of other people's expectations of the shelf life of grief and grappling with the ephemeral? I struggle with gratitude at Thanksgiving because I'm still mad at the unfairness of my mom losing my dad on Thanksgiving week. I struggle with Christmas music because so much of it is intertwined with memories of my dad. I can be picking out a Christmas tune on the piano with the kids and suddenly have to excuse myself to a different room. I can be hit by a chord from the pipe organ and want to be anywhere in the world but in a church. Not "over it," clearly.
"Grapple" is the verb I use most often to describe what I've been doing with my feelings for the last few weeks (years?). As many things do, "grappling with difficulty" makes me think of Epictetus, who said "When difficulty falls on you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough opponent. Why? So that you may become a conqueror. But it is not accomplished without sweat." I'm thankful to be here to struggle, and thankful for family and friends who struggle along with me. And I'm thankful to see this season through my children's eyes, as I find myself both hopeful and fearful for them as they get older.