November 22, 2011

A not so heartwarming holiday piece

Perhaps everyone who is in the presumed second half of their life feels this way.  Each Thanksgiving I have some morbid thoughts.  Will I be here next year?  Who will be around the table?  Who will be missing?  And then I take a deep breath, and work on that gratitude thing, that savoring thing, that being in the present thing.
Pass the cranberry sauce, please.
Years ago I read a book that suggested thinking of three items daily for which to be grateful.  The author suggested that on some days, it might just be opening your eyes that morning.  I have tried to adopt this philosophy, but I find at the holidays I let a little of the maudlin sink in.
Over the past two weeks I’ve encountered people dear to me who are suffering in ways they couldn’t have imagined a year ago.  We all have people like this in our lives, or perhaps we are the ones suffering the unimaginable.
A college friend has been unable to find full-time work and now her old car is barely hanging on. She just got a 30-hour a week job, but is concerned that the junk heap won’t make the nearly one-hour commute, a commute worsened by a major bridge out due to infrastructure problems destined to take at least six more months to repair.  She tried to purchase a car last week at one of those “We’ll finance anybody places” but they wouldn’t finance her because of a recent bankruptcy.  She has a husband with bi-polar disease who is trying to get disability, and little family.  Her eldest sister has Parkinson’s, a husband with dementia, and is working on a Medicaid spend-down to get into a nursing facility.
Then there are my friends who are in their mid-seventies.  They had nine children between them, and married after their respective divorces nearly thirty years ago.  His oldest son is mentally disabled and while he lives on his own, they spend hours with his FSSA paperwork and helping him maintain a fairly independent lifestyle.  He has a contentious personality, but is able to work in a fast-food place and make a small living.  Earlier this year his oldest brother and great advocate (probably the one who would take over for mom and dad) sat on his front stoop and had a heart attack and died.  At age fifty-something.  Just out of the blue.  In his father, this has wrought long-suppressed nightmares of a war he fought long ago at age eighteen.
Finally I had coffee with a girlfriend I see several times a year.  Her sister – also in her fifties – was diagnosed with melanoma early in the summer and lasted only until early fall.  My friend, with the loss of her sister, has no remaining family left.  Her sister had never had any problems, and was checked regularly by her physician.
Sometimes people make bad choices and sometimes things just happen.  If I didn’t believe in a somewhat random universe, I might not survive. I think the universe is much like the winter wind, blowing in different directions on any given day.
Years ago when my husband’s 61-year-old father was killed in a car accident, people would say “things happen for a reason.”  I’ve never accepted that, and I don’t accept it today.  What I do believe is that we are given the strength from our Higher Power to handle what comes.
So as I survey the Thanksgiving table with all the special dishes and happy faces around it, I will probably again pause and wonder what it will be like next year.  But, only for a fleeting moment.  Then I will remember to savor, to enjoy, and to be in the present.  For one never knows which way the wind blows.