Baby, all I want for Christmas is you.
When grief visits you, the holidays change.
Your wish list becomes incredibly small.
Your priorities crystalize down to the essential, elemental things.
Suddenly gone are the extraneous, superfluous wants and aspirations.
You only desire one present now: presence.
When you lose someone you love, you forever realize the singular, irreplaceable gift that time with them was—because it becomes the only thing you really want anymore:
just one more explosive embrace as the front door swings open,
one more tearful eruption of laughter recalling the story you heard them tell a hundred times before,
one more smell of their heads as they lay nestled in the crook of your arm,
one more afternoon with the familiar music of their voices coming through the wall beside you,
one last phone call to hear them share life-changing news or the mundane events of a day,
just a few more seconds of ordinary life—with them still here.
You bargain and pray and hope with everything you have that you’ll be somehow be granted it.
You just desperately want a little more time with them, because as much or as little as as you may have had, it doesn’t feel like enough now. You feel cheated and you deserve more.
And that’s the cruelty of grief during the holidays or any days: more than anything the world can now offer, you want the presence of the people you’ve lost—and it’s the one gift that you cannot have.
So you settle for the next best thing: a valiant, stiff-upper lipped, brave-faced act of doing and remembering, of repeating traditions and sharing stories and invoking their names. You listen to the songs they loved and you make their favorite foods and you enjoy the things they enjoyed and you make fun of the things they made fun of.
You do all you can to be and to feel normal while a significant part of you and your family is clearly absent—and if you’re lucky you receive those tiny, glorious moments where you can almost resurrect them, where for a few fleeting seconds they are almost tangibly present with you again and you are whole and you lack nothing.
But there will soon be the realization that as good as you’ve been this year, as hard as you’ve worked, as deserving as you might be—you will not get the gift you most want: you will not get them here in the present again.
So you try and rejoice in the fact that you for a while you did get what you wanted: that for a few hours or a fifteen years or seven decades you had the gift of their lives, and that means you are better for it. It means you were shown incredible kindness. It means you had someone worth missing.
Look around you today, and you was grieve and remember and miss those who are no longer physically here, notice those who are here with you now: sharing life and making these days both beautiful and bearable—for they too will not always be here.
Treasure the embraces and the stories and the meals and the smells of their heads and the music of their voices in real-time, because they too will eventually be the stuff of photographs and memories.
Mourn the absences and celebrate the their presence in the present.
No, you can’t have the gift you most want right now—but you have today.