On Friday my daughter surprised me at work with one of my newfound favorites from Chick-fil-A--a very rich and highly addictive frozen lemonade. But along with her thoughtfulness came a flood of bittersweet memories. As she walked toward my desk and our eyes met, all I could see was her dad bringing me my weekly Cafe Rio fix four long years ago. Her eager-to-please, smiling eyes mirrored his so uncannily, it may as well have been him extending the heartwarming gesture. In that moment, I saw his love for me reflected in her. Yet another way life after loss does not allow for happy times without the sting of sadness seeping in, especially when we are on the receiving end of love--love that we ache and long for from those who are no longer with us.
Of course I didn’t want to share this with Anna in the moment because I have found that when I do express the bitter-sweet connections, my children (and others) often refrain from offering the sweet in an attempt to shield me from the bitter, not realizing that this is entirely unavoidable. It just is. It’s part of life after loss. And so, I remain quiet...and grateful for the opportunities I still have to give and receive from some. But sad because I can no longer give to others, an undeniable truth I haven’t dared explore...until now.
I was again reminded of this gift giving-receiving dilemma upon opening the mail later that evening when I found that my sister had sent a care package filled with what she called “A taste of home,” complete with homemade sugar cookies, applesauce cookies, and raspberry jam--all Mom’s recipes, all made in her kitchen, all made with the love she would have sent were she still here to share her favorite holiday with us. And while the sweets brought smiles and comfort, they too highlighted how much I miss the chance I once had to both give and receive from those who taught me HOW to give and love so fiercely in this life.
This year's Christmas shopping has been the most difficult to date as I have found myself feeling hollow and numb in the midst of buying for family members, friends, and colleagues. Even though I'm confident I have found exactly what they might want or need, I realize I am missing out on one crucial opportunity: I miss buying for him. Period. Not because I knew his tastes so well or because I got it right most of the time. In fact, more often than not, I knew I had totally missed the mark with workwear, golf accessories, or shoes he didn’t like or need. But still, I miss buying and doing for him. Likewise, I miss his failed and not-so-failed attempts at buying for me. Two perfectly paired awful gift givers who got really good at feigned satisfaction over the years until we finally agreed to shop together, leaving the surprises for Santa and the kids.
Now, alongside my yearnings, longings, and achings, I realize I can still buy for those I love and revel in their delight as we gather together this season. I realize I have been blessed with a thoughtful, loving second husband who is one of the most adept, heartfelt givers this family has ever known (thanks to his generous nature and Amazon Prime!). I realize I can still give my children a piece of their father by sharing stories and memorabilia with them. And yes, I recognize I can donate items in my late love’s honor. I can perform acts of kindness and service in his name. I know there is much I can do in his behalf to keep his memory alive. But (and this is a really big but…) I will never again share in the beautiful exchange that takes place when one buys, wraps, and watches as their (missing) loved one opens a gift personally selected just for him. I will not share in the joy of gift giving with him...or my mom...or my dad ever again. The three people in my life who taught me the priceless nature of giving, both the tangible and intangible, are no longer here to share in the reciprocity inherent in gift giving--the symbolic reason for the season as we like to say. And while I cling to the blessings my children, Rod, siblings, and friends are in my life, the void left by those now on the other side is unfillable. That is the power of love. Therein lies the power of giving, I suppose.
So this holiday, when we are fretting about buying or making the perfect gifts, I hope we can enjoy the fretting. Enjoy the process, the anticipation, the satisfaction, and maybe even the disappointment. Whether our gift-giving is so totally right or so miserably wrong, let’s enjoy the fact that we can still serve and buy for in-laws, spouses, children, and all who play an integral role in making us the givers and receivers we are. Let’s eat it up. Revel in it! Because we never know when the opportunity to give will be taken from us--when we will miss seeing our love wash over their grateful faces or hear their voices of genuine (or feigned) appreciation say "Thank you" one last time as they fold that unwearable shirt, set it aside, and pat it...with love.