Holidays are hard where I work.
Because holidays revolve around families, children, traditions. A lot of residents are gone for the day ~ picked up by their children or grandchildren and whisked away for the afternoon or day. But many are not. Many spend the day with us, the staff, while we do our best to create a cheery atmosphere. One that endeavors to mask the loneliness, the glaring lack of family.
That was today.
Holidays have been tough for me in general since I moved to Missouri. Tough for the very reason that holidays revolve around families. Where holidays back home used to be full of the chaos of nieces and nephews, and noise and food and laughter and the comforting knowledge that crazy as they may be, there is the solidarity of family that will always be there, no matter what.
I tried to create that here in the years that I’ve been in St. Louis. Tried to build community that felt like family. And for a long time it was that. The chaos of kids, the noise and food and laughter, and solidarity of people who would be there no matter what.
But today was the first holiday where it wasn’t. Today was my first holiday truly alone in many ways. My first holiday not in my long term relationship. My first holiday without my community.
Breakups are terribly hard on everyone involved. And while people may try to not ‘choose sides,’ there is fall out. One side is inevitably invited, the other is not, for sheer virtue of no one wanting the awkwardness that would happen with both parties in the same room. The chips fall where they do, and one party ends up being speculative conversation fodder for awhile, and eventually a memory. One party ends up drowning in an ocean of loneliness.
I passed by the dining room at work this morning, in a hurry, and heard a resident call my name. This particular man lost his wife of 60 plus years a few months ago. I called to him that I would be right back, and continued walking, but immediately felt a gut check to turn around. I went to the table and saw that he had tears in his eyes.
“What’s going on, Tom?” I asked him.
He pointed to a string of plastic easter eggs we had hung by the fireplace.
“Can you give me 3 of those?” He asked.
“I can try to find some.” I answered. “What do you need them for?”
“I’m going to see my grandkids. I don't drive anymore, I couldn’t go to the store to get them anything.” He shook his head. “I know its nothing, but I can’t go empty handed. It probably won’t mean anything to them, but I can’t….its the first Easter since my wife….”
And he couldn’t go on.
I told him I would be right back. I found some extra plastic eggs, some candy and brought them to his table and set them in front of him.
He looked up at me, tears falling as his eyes met mine.
“My heart is broken.” He said, his mouth shaking around the words. “My heart…its just…broken.”
“Yeah, I know.” I said. “I know.”
And we cried together, both sitting amidst the pieces of our hearts, both of us knowing there was absolutely nothing we could do to put them back together.
There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in places of unbelievable emotional suffering. And in those places and times, it can become almost impossible to keep any sort of grasp on hope. That has been my week. Where the pain takes a shape of its own, and the darkness creeps up like a tide coming in, lapping at your feet. An entire day passes and you realize you forgot to eat because the grief has filled so much of the inside. And you know that despite all the pain you feel, you have absolutely no choice but to get up and keep putting one foot in front of the other. And in those times, the desire to isolate can be overwhelming. To curl up into yourself and just exist.
Not everyone will face suffering to that extent. But a lot of us will. And its frightening to realize that, for those of us who do face it, its inescapable. There is no way around it, or over it. There is no pill to numb it, or magic thing to take it away. It simply must be endured.
I left work and went to my friend’s house, where she was recovering from a hysterectomy. Our other friend met us there. Then a girl who lives there and her friend joined as well. The 5 of us sat there like war refugees, outside of the bombing, but still feeling all the aftershocks. We didn’t fix anything. But we were there, saying with words and not words, that we were in the suffering together. And finding we could actually still laugh through the tears, and know that even if we don’t feel it now, and even if we don’t know how, we will be okay one day.
That is where the tiny threads of hope are found. In remembering all we have endured thus far, and how we have survived. In sitting on a deck telling each other how we will make next Easter absolutely wonderful. Or silently stuffing candy into plastic eggs, while tears flow; knowing that while nothing can fix the pain, it doesn't have to be suffered alone.
And in the knowing that despite all the hurt and pain and utter mess….we can still love. In the putting one foot in front of the other, we can still give the gift of kindness and love every single day. Maybe even more so and to greater depth than we ever did before. Because pain allows us to identify with others like nothing else can. And therin lies purpose. In coming alongside each other and being there through it all.
But most of all, its found in the knowing that God’s promises are true. And there is nothing that can ever take them away.
“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23