Home for Christmas

There is snow on the ground in my hometown. It’s not terribly cold – yet – and today it’s bright and sunny. The tree is trimmed, anchored by beautifully wrapped boxes of all shapes and sizes. The stockings are hung, there’s a whimsical winter village atop the mantel. The fridge is bursting at the seams with all the makings of the feasts we’ll share in the upcoming days.

All the markings of Christmastime abound, yet there is a distinct feeling in the atmosphere. It’s strange, yes, and it’s one that evokes a feeling that something is missing, and of course that’s true. But it’s something else too. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it since I’ve been home, but I can’t quite nail it down.

It’s been an eventful year. That’s the understatement of the century, right? As we barrel toward Christmas, knowing the start of a new year is around the corner, we are all undoubtedly reflecting on 2020. Instead of recounting all the challenges and hurdles and moments of despair and sadness (not that those things aren’t worth reflecting on) I’m trying my very best to muster memories of some of the bright spots in this life-changing year.

I don’t think I’ve grown more in such a short period of time. One of the things I learned about myself this year is that I’m more resilient than I thought. We’ve all had to be, I suppose, but for me, given the trajectory of my life lately, this comes as a welcome and surprisingly joyful observation. That I’ve survived all the things thrown at me over the last 12 months is reason for celebration alone; that I’ve actually started to thrive is miraculous.

Isolation is a bitch. The pandemic kept us all inside, spending more time in our homes than we probably ever remember, some of us with family, children, pets, etc., and some of us utterly alone. I am in the latter group, and while there have been moments of darkness, I can say with confidence that I’m pretty great to hang out with! I’ve always said that if you don’t like hanging out with you, how can you expect anyone else to? To be fair, I’ve always enjoyed my own company, but this year that was stretched to the limit. And aside from a few moments of boredom, frustration or simply being sick of myself, for the most part being alone and physically isolated hasn’t been so bad! I’m a cool chick and I’d definitely hang out with me.

Relationships have been tested this year, for all of us. Living through a global pandemic in this modern world has affected us all in myriad ways, both for good and bad. It’s been a struggle. There’s no shame in admitting that it’s been hard and it’s OK to take a break from trying to find the silver lining all the time – it’s OK to wallow a bit. But, of course, life just goes on, and we must pick up the pieces and try our best to make sense out of the nonsensical, find good in sorrow, and gird ourselves for whatever comes next. And we can’t do any of that without our most meaningful relationships.

I’ve learned a lot this year. I’ve learned that I can cope in dire situations and manage my mental health like a pro. I mean, I had some glitches here and there, but I am quite proud of myself for taking good care of myself and prioritizing my wellbeing over shitty things and situations. I’ve learned that taking a giant leap of faith and severing ties with a company I’ve worked with for over 12 years is turning out to be perhaps the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s scary and it’s emotional to leave that part of my life behind me but pivoting and starting a new journey down an unknown path is exhilarating. And is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.

I’ve learned to be kinder to myself and others. I’ve learned that I don’t ever want to be the source of hurt for anyone in my life. I’ve curated a wonderful group of friends around me, and I cannot jeopardize that. I’ve learned that I can reconnect with an old love and emerge with the comforting knowledge that our connection and friendship is not only still intact, but also grown over the years and this relationship coming back into my life now is not happenstance.

I’ve learned and am still learning, what devastating loss is. I’m navigating grief in my own way, figuring it out as I go, but putting all my faith in just letting my heart lead the way. I miss my dad so much. Like, more than I thought possible. But my family is tight, and we’re here for each other and I know I can depend on that. I’ve learned just how lucky I am to have had a dad like mine, and that I’m lucky to have gotten the time with him that I did. He has given me so many gifts and as those gifts slowly reveal themselves to me, I’m feeling more connected to him than ever before.

But it’s OK to miss him, it’s OK to be sad when I feel sad, and to laugh when something is funny. Christmas was his favourite holiday. I remember as a kid, Dad would come home from work, bursting through the front door when his Christmas vacation started, singing a holiday song he made up. He loved us so much. His favourite place, even above the football field if I’m being honest, was home with his family, all his kids (and eventual grandkids) around him, the chaos of 17 conversations going on at once, the laughter, the teasing, the smiles, and the hugs – that was his sweet spot. It’s mine too.

At the end of this strange year, I suspect we are going to reflect in a way we haven’t before. This year has been incredible in the true sense of the word – centuries from now, humans (if we’re still here) will read about 2020 and dissect the turning point in human existence that we’ve all been experiencing in real time.

But for now I’m going to sip my coffee from my favourite mug, while my mom bakes shortbread cookies and I’m going to soak it all in as much as I can. I’m going to look at this home in a way I never have before and appreciate it for all the love and life it’s held within its walls for the last 38 years. And though I will be sad when I feel the absence of my dad as we try to carry on with our family traditions as seamlessly as possible, I will be grateful for his presence. He was larger than life and the center of our family, and we’ll hold each other a little tighter and a little longer this year and be happy for the time we had with him.