December Mashup: losses and celebrations

I drafted two end-of-year blog posts, and was struck by the sense that I was saying the same thing in different ways, so I interlocked them by paragraphs. Here are the things we miss, and the things we celebrate.

December has been a month of silent celebration for the Zook family. I say silent because we haven’t often been able to pull others into our joys – our county ranked third in the nation, and climbing, for new Covid cases per population, which put a mandated damper on gatherings – but among our family there was nothing silent about it.

I miss the Christmas things, the concerts and parties and traditions with others. I miss the party where Santa always hands out candy canes and the children paint crafts. It’s always been that way, for as long as we were a part of the agency. I miss the school program, Christmas caroling, and the his-family/my-family dinners.

Just before December, we celebrated more traditionally. Thanksgiving was a happy celebration with one of my brothers home from Florida, and another from Tennessee, and my mom’s and sisters’ lovely cooking. My family has scattered in several key ways, but we remember the things that tie us together, and they won’t ever go away. I love being with my siblings.

I miss the rest of our extended families, some of whom we haven’t seen for twelve months. We didn’t travel.

We celebrated Advent as a family, one more sweet non-event of waiting each day, and it meant more than usual, with so much else not happening.

I miss being able to try out new recipes on a large and appreciative audience. There are good things to try, but my family can only eat so many. There are no Christmas festivities this year where everyone brings a dish to share.

We celebrated the one public event we could, a drive-through Journey to Bethlehem by a church nearby. They did such a lovely job, with live animals including a camel.

I miss knowing what the faces of new people look like, though I am pleased to find that I am learning to edit out masks in my mind – that is, when I look backward to remember a face, and wonder, “Was that fellow-customer who showed me the way to the fresh cranberries masked or not? Or the newcomer at the support group?” I honestly do not know. I remember them, and their eyes. Not their policy and presentation. This is amazing progress.

We celebrated Puppy Departure, our second litter of Shih Poos placed joyfully in homes. This was GenY: Abby, Molly, and Kayte, and they were adorbsy. Yes, I really used that word. No, I will not let it become a regular thing.

I miss the easy hugs and handshakes, and always knowing what to do when I met someone I loved. Or greeted someone for the first time. I’ve always moved in, but not this year. What is their comfort level? What is mine? I am unsure. I miss having closeness be normal.

We laughed hard when Jenny discovered, all on her own, the age old joke about “Joseph and Mary and the baby lying in the manger.” She thought it was soooo funny, and her sister diagrammed it for her.

I miss having an endpoint to a season – summer will give way to fall, Christmas will give way to January snows, the flu season melts into warmer, healthier days. This year, Covid gave way to Covid gave way to Covid. I knew there’d be an end, but it wasn’t in sight.

We celebrated getting well again, after a mild but all-inclusive head cold swept our family. Sore throats and head congestion. No fevers, no mysterious losses of sense. We cleared our schedule, what there was of it, and pulled the kids out of school, and hunkered down and healed. We were not sick enough to be miserable, except one day each for two of us. We were hot-drinks-puzzles-crafts-and-candy-making unwell at home. So peaceful. So grateful.

I miss the days when cold symptoms were just cold symptoms. Hmmm. Well, take a Tylenol and I’m sure you’ll feel better in the morning. Now all symptoms must be analyzed to the max, and with reason. We need to think of others, let the school know, check our empty social calendar and clear the last two things off it.

It’s hard watching your Sunday school class perform without you.

We celebrated receiving a huge box of Christmas crafting supplies and instructions from my aunt who lives in Texas. Bless her. She is the crafter of the family, and pulls others in. Her sisters tease her that it always looks like Hobby Lobby threw up in her trunk. I still use the hot glue gun she gave me when I was pre-teen (with crafting materials which she and I then assembled together). She sent a box like this to all the cousins – an amazing surprise and joy. It took us all of one morning to make our four snowmen.

We celebrated Jenny’s birthday with a Candyland cake. How can my baby be five? There was enough sugar on that cake to bring major mom-guilt. Which I discarded, along with most of the cake toppings when no one was looking.

I miss the glowing face of a little child leaning over a birthday cake that lots of people will eat, blowing out all the candles and no one seeing the germs, just bursting into applause.

I miss big celebrations and fellowship meals and large groups. I miss local friends from other churches, whom I now rarely see. I miss being a safe place for the elderly and vulnerable. I want to protect them more than we are, not less. I miss going to church – our family took two Sundays off during the worst of the infections, and watched the livestream.

I look back with longing to just one year ago, the way we packed people into a chapel and practiced our music each week, then crowded onto a stage and sang and sang, glorious and full-voiced, with never a thought of harm. I miss the safety of crowds mingling, all sharing the same air. I miss being thoughtless. I miss the days when being thoughtless did not cost other humans so much.

We celebrated me coming home from the ER, when my sudden and intense abdominal pain checked out to be more ovarian cysts, and one ruptured. I had to be alone in there because of Covid, but they took great care of me, and brought the pain down from a nine to a three. The medicine I’m on makes cysts unlikely, but obviously not impossible. Home again, I ate good hot soup, serving after serving, from a friend. We felt cared for, and incredibly grateful for home.

I miss being on the same page, plugged in. I miss being able to express my opinions without triggering taboos and highlighting fault lines between the people I love most. You may scour this post for a concrete viewpoint, but I’ve been as nonrepresentational as I could. Quietness may be cowardly, but it’s simpler.

We celebrated one whole year clean for Ryan. I don’t need to tell you the kind of joy that was. We picked up take-out (our favorite barbecued meat – wood smoked, the best in the world) and baked a luscious peanut butter pie. We made a huge poster, and gave him a small keepsake gift.

At the recommendation of our counselors, Ryan and I reopened our wound that week – a voluntary “full disclosure” talk from him to me, and an “emotional impact letter” from me to him. It’s the kind of thing you worry you won’t live through, and then find yourself at a whole new place afterward. Open, tender, closer, together. It brought me past wishful thinking, fear, and anger into pain, acceptance, and new forgiveness. We keep growing. I wish it weren’t so painful, but I don’t want to go back. We celebrated us.

I miss our innocence. I miss when we didn’t need to worry about the dark things we couldn’t see. We were like children. Go grocery shopping, come home and unpack it all, sit down and eat a sandwich. Go to church, sit down, think of nothing but the song and the dinner in the oven at home. I miss easy trust and painless belonging. I miss being mint.

We celebrated Christmas Eve with an appetizer feast. Each of the kids made one of the recipes, and opened one present each. I’m so happy we are all together this year. I don’t take that for granted anymore.

I do not miss the hectic pace, the many evenings booked each week, the endless meetings to attend. In 2020, we juggled schedules a lot less. We were together as a family much more. I like this. Seems like a smallish gain for a high price, but we didn’t get to set that economy, did we?

At last we celebrated Christmas. Rich day at home, and a stack of lovely presents. The next day, we met up in a small group with another two of my brothers – treasured gift.

We are sad and joyous and rich, betrayed and fearful and safe.

In the same breath, we hope we will make it, and know we are so blessed.

Give me a snippet of your December? It doesn’t have to fit together nicely.

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Mary Faith
3 years ago

Oh, the conflict, between pain and celebration! We have had a ton of pain in December, the worst being my father passing away (on Nov 30, from Covid complications), then my uncle passing away the day after my father’s funeral (from almost the exact same complications as my father). That brought my siblings together like we hadn’t been for a few years, and uncles, aunts, and cousins, some of whom we hadn’t seen for many years. (Please don’t wait for death to bring family together!) My brothers had planned to come home for Christmas this year, but because of our father’s funeral earlier in the month, they didn’t come again. One of my sisters ended up in the hospital over Christmas (not Covid, thank God), so Christmas was a very quiet and sad time here. It took making a very conscious effort to think of the good, but there is always something good if you look in the right places. Your last two sentences say it very well. “We are sad and joyous and rich, betrayed and fearful and safe. In the same breath, we hope we will make it, and know we are so blessed.”

Julie Glick
3 years ago

I felt free to get as many Christmas gifts as I thought would bring the most happiness, which was a joyous freedom I have long wished for. I think it was also December when I bought a CD player for the family (it was the same one you recommended on a post about gifts), and this season we listened to a LOT of Christmas songs, which never seemed to happen before when we needed to use the computer. I read, “Boundaries” which put a lot of pieces of the puzzle together for me. My kids discovered puzzles and we have has so much fun with them. We acted out the Christmas story on Christmas Eve, and we had a big enough family for a pretty good cast. The dog didn’t quite appreciate being a sheep, but that is understandable. I chose the recorded songs for worship at church and loved hearing the responses of people as we talked about what we adore about Jesus. It felt like a season of growth and unfurling, which seems odd for December.

3 years ago

I too miss the days of innocent gatherings, church services, care free grocery shopping, without having to figure out layers and nuances of how Everything Must Be Done. I wonder where the people are who can see both sides of an issue and see the value of both with GRACE. Thank you, God, there are some but they feel, to me, a scarce commodity.

I think God is speaking loudly and I don’t want to be distracted or proud or aloof to His purposes.

I feel vulnerable but yet undergirded.

Love your 1 year anniversary ????

3 years ago

I loved this and could relate so well… I sent you my family letter last week, so you will get or have gotten a glimpse into my life.

3 years ago

I feel like our December just whisked by. My middle daughter and I started helping with child care at our church’s young married Bible study. The church is paying us which is very helpful for us. We too miss all the beautiful Christmas events here in Arizona that had to be cancelled. Prescott is known as Arizona’s Christmas City due to its gorgeous downtown Christmas displays. But there are a few Christmas events that didn’t need to be cancelled because they were either drive thru events or social distancing was easily done. As a result we were able to participate in some Christmas traditions.

Our oldest daughter who lives in California was able to visit for a couple of days last week but needed to be home to help with her church Christmas Eve service. We drove her to Henderson, Nevada to meet up with the family she lives with there. While in Henderson we visited a place called Ethel M Chocolate and Cactus Garden. I never thought I would enjoy a cactus garden but it was beautiful and we just had to buy some chocolate!????

Our small group ladies Bible study had a Christmas potluck ( just 10 of us in our group) and it was really nice to fellowship with my sister’s in Christ.
Christmas Day was actually nice and quiet but I missed having a ton of guests over at Christmas. Present opening was fun because we had decided we would really focus on practical gifts so homemade was the theme.
Our special treat though was a sister from church blessed us a ton of groceries and I can’t tell you how much we appreciated her bringing us food and household items.

December wasn’t what any of us expected but our gracious Father has His hands upon us. Lord willing, I will celebrate my 60th birthday on New Year’s Eve. It seems weird leaving my 50s and entering my 60s. It will be interesting to say the least.

3 years ago

Tears in my eyes when I read how you and Ryan reopened the wounds and found more healing. I’m glad for you. My husband and I have had similar conversations, by the grace of God. We’re grateful.

My December: splurging on extra gifts for people this year, because why not. Visiting my family, only to be reminded how broken we all are, and how much we need Jesus and his redemption.

Not much about this season has been ideal or comfortable, but neither was the first Christmas. Yet Jesus still came, and he’s still here. “God with us.”

Lucinda J. Miller
3 years ago

I enjoyed this mashup of loss and celebration. This December I celebrated my first Christmas away from my parents and siblings. They were all together and I wasn’t with them. That was loss and harder than I expected. But my husband and growing tiny child… this is gain.

3 years ago

Lucinda! That’s exciting you are expecting☺. Congratulations to the both of you!

3 years ago

That Candyland cake is delightful! Really enjoyed reading about your mishmash month. Where we live , we have just entered a second lockdown similar to the one in the spring (no church, etc.) so with no gatherings over this time we need to be creative with activities with members of our own household…
We miss and remember our loved ones gone before, this year and in years gone by-hubby’s parents, our baby, a few nephews, etc. This year a nephew and aunt passed away. Not from covid but because of covid we couldn’t attend the funerals.
One morning when I decided just to read “wherever” in my Bible it flipped open to Romans 13. I wasn’t really in the mood to read that but I did and I guess it was for me that day. Could hardly believe it when a few days later I stumbled across a similar but much shorter passage in Titus. So I guess when struggling to know how to respond to all this , God is still calling me to yield (even if I don’t fully understand)… ????‍♀️

3 years ago

I resonate with your line: It’s the kind of thing you worry you won’t live through, and then find yourself at a whole new place afterward. When Covid first landed the three of us at home all the time, this roused some issues that came to a head, leading to tough times. Really tough times. But honesty, which felt harsh and left us raw, opened a doorway to a healthier place. A very hard path to walk, but a better place to be.

This Christmas we Zoomed with family and my teenage daughter taught us all to play Scribble – an online game. It was hilarious. I worried about a dear aunt, who lives close, but stayed home due to unending snow and bad roads (and Covid) – sending her flowers felt like a poor replacement for being together, but I delighted in being able to do at least that.

And Boxing Day was strangely wonderful. We streamed Christmas music played by the London Symphony Orchestra and sat at the dining table between meals. I painted, my daughter worked at weaving a bracelet, and my husband cleaned an old drill that used to belong to my uncle’s dad. Quiet, peaceful, together. It was nice.

3 years ago

Thanks for the effort and time you put into articulating this season. It has been hard for me to find words to express my deepest feelings this year, and I have found the words of others helpful in the quest to verbalize my emotions.

3 years ago
Reply to  Linda

Linda, that is just what I thought when reading this blog post – all these feelings trapped inside about faces behind masks and the added worry when someone gets a cold – Shari put words to many things I’ve just been vaguely aware of.

3 years ago

You folks did have a lot to celebrate this month!!! I love the happy Regan faces on the Christmas pictures. 🙂

One thing I did with Elliana during advent was I allowed her to send Christmas mail every day to a friend of her choice. It wasn’t anything big, but it brought her joy and didn’t break any mandates. 🙂

I also especially enjoyed letters and photos from my faraway friends. I always enjoy Christmas mail, but it was extra special this year.

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