As we enter the holiday season, worry hangs in the air. There is the obvious anxiety about our health and the health of our loved ones. Should we drive to see our aging parents? Can our adult children fly home for Christmas? Then there are the financial concerns. How many presents can we afford under the tree this year? Can we afford that tree at all?
I mourn the absence of holiday gatherings. For over 35 years, I have spent New Year’s with three best friends, which expanded to our partners and to our children over time. For decades, this merry band of twelve have rung in the New Years together. But not this year. I cannot tell you how sad this makes me.
Not to mention Christmas. My daughters both made it home for Thanksgiving, but neither of them plan to be home this Christmas. My heart hurts just to think of it. For me, absences abraid old wounds. My brother died young, and I still feel the pain of his empty chair at Christmas. All absences can evoke this old wound, even when the missing people are truly alive and well. It isn't hard to stir the searing pain of loss and death.
However, 2020 is what it is, and I am trying to make the best of it. This year, I have created a new home base for myself, with new daily rules. Every day, I try to do the same five things, and they really help. Each of these activities makes me calmer, happier, and/or more at peace. For ease of remembering, think of the mnemonic M.E.C.C.A. (Mecca being both a holy city, and a word that means “center”). What is M.E.C.C.A.?
1) Meditate: Start your day with a brief meditation. I listen to “Headspace,” which offers a ten minute daily guided meditation (learn more about it here: https://www.headspace.com/). To be clear, every morning I wake up and think, “Oh let’s just skip meditating.” I really never want to. But, when I engage in meditation, I feel better: clear-headed, relaxed and refreshed.
2) Exercise: Every day, I exercise. Given COVID, I quit my gym, but I can still walk the dog, or hop on our elliptical trainer, or lift hand weights. As with meditation, every time before I start, I think "Oh let's just skip exercising." Also as with meditation, every time after I exercise, I think “Oh I feel so much better now!” The very best mornings are ones in which I both meditate and exercise before I start my day.
3) Create: Do you write? Paint? Quilt? Perhaps you used to practice a creative art, years ago, when you were in school. Creativity is one of the best coping tools we have. By creating, we can take our feelings and transform them into something else: something beautiful or cathartic. And bonus, you can use your creativity to make presents this holiday. My cousin, Ikuko, sends out exquisite handmade cards every Christmas. Her skill is beyond me, but I always look forward to seeing her creations.
For me, I write and play the piano. I am currently practicing a Christmas piece my musician-genius dad arranged for me when I was a girl. Playing this song brings my dad back into the room, even though he has been dead for decades. When I play his chords, I can feel him sitting next to me on the piano bench, just like many years ago. I can feel my piano teacher- mother there as well. (She thinks I should keep practicing.)
4) Connect: During the holiday time, many people feel lonely. Like me, many people have lost someone, and we miss them particularly in this sentimental season. This year, there will be even more people missing their loved ones, because most of us will need to stay in our own homes.
Reach out to your loved ones. Don’t just text, pick up the phone and talk. I grant you, the conversation won’t be riveting. No one is doing anything, so there isn’t much to talk about other than COVID 19. Just the same, call your friends. Call your aunt. Call your grandparents.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I talked to four cousins, my college roommate, and a long-lost friend from graduate school. It filled my heart to connect with these women, like no time had passed at all. The phone calls were an investment of time, and texts would have been a lot more efficient. But I know I wouldn't have had the depth of connection just by texting. Make the call.
5) Accomplish: Every day, do something you have put off doing. You know those projects that you never have time for? My house was filled with those, but not anymore! And goodness knows, around the holidays there is plenty to be done. Perhaps this will be the year that I finally organize our Christmas paper bin. It is full of scraps of wrapping paper, dusty ribbons and cardboard boxes of dubious utility. Every year I tell myself I will clean it out and organize it. Something tells me that this will finally be the year. (My husband, Doug, would be ever so grateful if it were.)
No one knows how long we will drift in this odd COVID limbo, but I hope you can make the best of this strange holiday season, caring for yourself and keeping a healthy grounding routine. Remember M.E.C.C.A. and give it a try.
You will find me meditating and exercising (reluctantly), creating my blogs, and calling my friends on New Years. You will also find me in the back of my garage, throwing out dusty wrapping paper.
We will find our way back to normal, at some point. For now, enjoy the twinkle lights adorning your neighbor's houses. Remind yourself that just because people are absent does not mean they aren't alive. Call them. Take care and chin up. Humanity has gotten through many difficult times, and we will get through this too. Happy Holidays to you.
*An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Healthy Aging Magazine.
The author's memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader. Flashback Girl would make an excellent holiday gift for your loved ones!