a holiday collage

Grace Notes #11: Happy Holidays!

How can it be December already? It’s not possible! Yet, here we are.

How do you fare when the light shortens and the air turns brisk?

I find myself pulling out the candles and the twinkle lights and needing—and taking comfort in—winter’s quietude. As much as we are surrounded by our jingly-jangly consumer culture (Is it just me, or is Mariah Carey belting out “All I Want for Christmas IS YOU!” everywhere, once the dishes from the Thanksgiving feast are washed?), I confess to treasuring the in-between moments of quiet.

The four-o’clock hour when I put the tea kettle on and look out to watch the sky begin to morph into New England’s version of the Northern lights, with pink and lavender light washing across the skies. The slips of time when darkness starts to fall and a little nap beneath a fleecy comforter suddenly feels like just the thing. Or the twilight walks around the neighborhood, enjoying the warm light pouring out from living room windows and the assortment of holiday displays in nearby front yards.

This year I promised myself to not get caught up in the holiday frenzy which we can absorb, even if we don’t actually have too much reason to be frenzied! For the first time I can remember, I took care of gifts for our littles by the end of November. So, “shopping and shipping”? Check. And I noticed how grabbing that task and doing it, instead of carrying it around on my mental to-do list felt. I noticed how much space felt freed up just by moving that task to the “done” column. Somehow, there seems to be more space to focus on choosing a few things or events to mark this time of year.

A cozy Christmas tableau.

This weekend we are traveling to Eaton NH for a holiday concert by Dana Cunningham, whose music I listened to a lot while working on Grace Street. We were introduced to Dana’s music several years ago when Windham Hill musician Will Ackerman sponsored a showcase of up-and-coming artists at the Natick Arts Center. Out of a truly impressive lineup, Dana shone. Her piano instrumentals are filled with soul and spirit and we bought every one of her CDs on the spot. In addition to being something of a soundtrack as I was writing Grace Street, her music has accompanied us on our travels as well. We have memories of driving through Zion National Park listening to her music, which seemed to be a fit with the natural majesty of the place.

Here is a link to Dana and her music, which happily includes a new holiday release entitled Homecoming: Songs of Comfort and Joy, available at her website, dannacunningham.com.

We’re looking forward to using some pieces of her music as we prepare the audiobook . . . Stay tuned!

Of course, for those grieving fresh or long-time losses, the holiday season can be truly distressing. If that is you, consider ways to claim your quietude, to mark the missing-ness of your dear ones in some palpable way. You might create a table top to hold a photo, a book, or object that brings that person closer to you. Or you might cook a dish they loved to share with someone.

If you are at a gathering, can you find one or two people—or the group—with whom to share a memory? Bringing the person’s name into the room, instead of avoiding it, can be another way to include your grief in the day instead of feeling you must park it at the door. You may want to stay near to home, or you may feel a strong pull to get away to a very different environment. There’s no “right” way; your own way through has to fit you, and only you.

But if you know someone else who is in this hard place of holding serious illness or grieving, you might try to make some connection with them, through an offer to go for a walk, or a batch of soup or goodies dropped off. Berkshire author Janet Reich Elsbach has a lovely cookbook called Extra Helpings, Recipes for Caring, Connecting & Building Community One Dish at a Time (Roost Books), which is filled with stories of tending to one another with food and recipes for nurturing those who are healing.

The book’s section titles, like Food for the Rearranged and Relocated, Food for Illness & Recovery, Food for Solace (such a lovely word), Food for Cheer, Distraction & Celebration, and Caring for the Caregiver, lay out a road map of generosity and abundance. It’s available here through Bookshop.org.

And I know from experience that during this season, with all of its distractions, the journal can get buried beneath a pile. I had to dig mine out today to write this piece! But don’t let that discourage you in the least. If you are fortunate enough to have found your way to fitting in some regular time to journal, that is wonderful. What a GIFT to yourself. If all you can do is to grab a few minutes to scratch out some thought during the aforementioned “in between times,” great! But if not, have patience with yourself. Take a colored pen—or a highlighter for your digital calendar—and make a writing date at the end of the month or in January to catch up with yourself. Then let it go!

When you do get time to sit down with yourself, here’s an idea.

One of the things I’ve done as I prepared this newsletter was to look over photos from this past year and choose a few to use as writing prompts. As is so often is the case, looking over what, at the time, were fleeting moments—those “oh! Let’s grab a photo!” moments with friends and family, are now revealed to hold powerful feelings with the passing of even a few months. I am left with such gratitude for the loved ones and places and events we’ve shared these last twelve months. You might try your own version of this- browsing through your 2022 photos and choosing a handful of moments, and then trying to write about them.

Likewise, you may want to spend a few minutes writing about what you would like to see in your 2023 photo album! What are your wishes and dreams for the new year? Writing them down is a way of letting yourself know what they are, and that they are important to you. You may find that with a pen (or a cursor, though I prefer a pen!) in your hand, you surprise yourself!

And if you’re looking for a gift for someone who might be touched by Grace Street, we are offering a holiday gift pack! It includes a ribbon-wrapped, signed copy of the book, a journal and pen small enough to tuck into a satchel, an herbal tea bag, and a donation of $2/book to support families coping with cancer. (Some recipients have been Cancer Care of Central Mass, Pop Cares of Northern Berkshire, The Susan B. Komen Three Day, and the AYJ Fund). The gift pack is $22 plus $3 shipping. You can order it through my website, or by emailing me at mcsmith@maureencallahansmith.com to make arrangements.

I’m happy to sign the book and inscribe it for the person you are gifting and mail it to them directly.

And finally, as 2022 winds down, let me once again take this opportunity to THANK you so deeply for your support this year as we introduced Grace Street. It has been an extraordinary time of finding the heart connections that make the loss of someone so dear, bearable. I know with no doubt that Kathy would be—IS, wherever she is!—very, very pleased. We will be rethinking plans for the book and for this newsletter as we launch 2023, so feel free to be in touch with your thoughts, which we value tremendously. Tony & I wish you the peace and love that is the best part of this, and every season.

Maureen & Tony at Okanogan-Wenatchee waterfront along the Icicle River, April 2022.

And best wishes for health and all good things in 2023!

— Maureen

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