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Can't Do All the Things? Light A Candle and Sit with Me.

I tend to be an energetic person. I fill my calendar with appointments. I make long to do lists. I wake up early on the weekends and run errands so I can run around and do other things in the afternoon. Now, for the first time ever, my tendancies are changing. I have learned to do nothing.


I maintain my busyness as much as I can, but sometimes, my grief just knocks me down. And then, I sit with it. I do nothing. Passing thoughts of "I should" or "I need to" pass through my mind while I sit, immoveable, literally unable to move. While sitting like this, sometimes I think or cry or remember. Sometimes, I just sit doing nothing, thinking nothing, feeling nothing.


Now, with the holidays already deeply in motion, I wonder how I will do all the things. The things are different now. The things no longer include running to bring cookies to my beloved sister Ann or my lost-to-dementia-yet-still-a-cookie-monster mother. Now, the things do not make sense to me. The things are different now.


Why did I make all those cookies? Why did I buy all those presents? Why do I have so many decorations and holiday dishes? There are two fewer to eat, receive, and entertain this year - not just this year, every year from now on.


I try to get up off the couch, but my body is leaden, heavy, an anvil. That's it! I'm an anvil. I know that tomorrow I will pick up on some of the things and invent some new ones. But for this moment, I am an anvil, a big, heavy steel block on which metal can be hammered and shaped.


A metal thought appeared one morning. Hey, I have all Ann's and Mom's Christmas jewelry. I will wear it today. Here I am wearing Christmas tree earrings, a bracelet, and a Christmas tree necklace that were Ann's. The lapel of my coat carries a reindeer broach that belonged to Mom. There, a new tradition is born, wearing the jewelry of my lost ancestors.


On this same day, I benefitted from a new tradition at my office. The build-your-own hot chocolate bar became available to all of us who rent space there in honor of National Hot Chocolate Day. Here I am with my festive cup. Do I look cheery? I felt pretty cheery until the sugar wore off. Then, I returned home to become the anvil.


While in my lumpulous, malleable state, I continue to ponder All the Things of the Holidays. First there were all the things of Thanksgiving. Next will be all the things of Christmas, then New Year's Eve, then New Year's Day, then Ann's birthday, and the Unknown Things of the anniversary of Ann's death in February and so on, and so on, and so on. It is overwhelming.


I read in an article on grief that it is healthy to create new traditions that do not include the loved ones who have passed. This is one of the thoughts that enters my mind in my anvil form. My family excelled at holidays, holiday cheer, holiday baking, and holiday togetherness. Where would a new tradition fit in?


While mulling, wondering, and stiffly lying on the couch, an idea came to me. I will light a candle. I love candles. I light one every morning when I begin my workday. The difference, the idea behind this tradition, is, I will light a candle to remember Ann and Mom. Not a fresh, new idea, I know. But it helped. I reclined there on the couch and stared at the candle. It worked so well, I lit another and another. I turned on any kind of electronic holiday decoration we own and sat in the glowing illumination of the tree, candles, et al.


Truth is, there is a new tradition. The Angel Tree Ceremony at the hospice where my mom died gathers together the relatives of all the patients who died during the year. Ornaments carrying each name on a cut-out of an angel decorate the trees in front of the building. Then, the staff reads all of the names - 600+ this year, of the people who died there. Once we found the ornament adorned with my mom's name, we sat to listen to the names. So many. The oppressive darkness of death and sorrow shrouded me while I heard the names, watched the tears trickle in each direction, and felt the feelings of this group of strangers united in one place because their loved one had passed away there.


It's not my favorite new tradition. It made me sad for Ann. She died in a hospital. There was no Angel ceremony for her. Her name was not read by a loving, hospice worker. I could not find an ornament in the tree that said Ann Valery Howard. Her angel should be flying with Mom's angel circling the tree with the abandon of those who shed their earthly worries this year.


I thought about the two of them as spirits. No more bickering or disagreements would strain their bond now. I closed my eyes and saw them living a new way in a new place where only light and love could reach them. A place filled with beauty, laughter, happiness, and friendship. I saw them walking in a beautiful garden - Ann without a limp and Mom in her prime at 50 - excitedly talking to each other and sharing stories or something that made them both even happier. I saw them both smiling and laughing together, making their other-worldly plans for their next excursion in their new world among the stars.


Ann had died a few times before the final occurance on February 18, 2023, and always came back to us here on earth. She told me she saw the light and the tunnel when she was dead. She said the overwhelming impression she rememberd of the place was peace, happiness, and no pain. Each time they revived her, she was very angry about coming back to the world where we live, where she experienced so much pain.


Thinking this made me smile. And light another candle. That was Ann. A fighter who, as much as she continued to fight to stay alive and achieve success in her life, hated accepting this life when she knew a much better one remained just out of her reach. I thought of her many outbursts, her indignations, her dramatic responses to life's burdens. She carried a larger load of unjust afflictions than anyone I ever knew. Fire filled her, making her rise up again and again - okay, I'll say it - like a phoenix rises from the ashes. My sister, Ann, the phoenix.


Another memory that makes me smiled centers around choosing the Christmas mug and plate while gathering at my house. Nearly 11 years ago, my husband, Steve, bought me a set of sweet and funny holiday reindeer mugs and plates. Each reindeer was painted on the mug with its own personality. Ann always chose Vixen, because she was adorned in a coquettish, red boa. Ann, the Vixen. And, every year, Mom chose Dasher because he wore a dapper, pinstriped suit. That was the exact word she used, "He looks so dignified in his dapper suit. I choose Dasher," she said. And she said it every year.


I turned the lights of the Christmas tree on again. I thought about my many phone conversations with Ann which often consisted more of wordplay and inside jokes than of the actual exchange of information. Once we hung up the phone, it inevitably would ring again within minutes and one of us would say, "I forgot to tell you why I called." I enjoyed my remembering that night, whichever night that was. I'm not sure. They blur together with all the holiday things.


Wild Lights at the Milwaukee County Zoo offered a drive-through experience this year, so we tried that one. Mom sent this butterfly - if you believe in signs - just as I started crying the tears of the ones left behind. I missed her so much that night, and she must have known. Thank you, Mom, for joining us at the zoo.


Christmas in the Basilica, our favorite holiday concert, brouoght the dependable lushness of the Bel Canto Choir and the ornate beauty of the Basilica of St. Josaphat. A feast for the eyes, ears, and souls. A lovely tradition that my anvil self dragged itself to experience. Just keep moving, the words of my resilient Aunt Bette echoed through my mind that day. I was glad I did. Thank you, Aunt Bette, for the motivation to participate in Christmas music.


If you were to bet, what odds would you give my ability to continue doing the rest of the holiday things? The remaining things will focus on enjoyment and togetherness. My favorite things! I think the probability is good that I will make it for all the togetherness things. The part where I do things alone like clean the house, make more cookies, and write the New Year's Eve list of the Balistreri Thompson Family Accomplishments, carries much smaller odds. In fact, I would guess a 15% probability of doing those things.


The probability of lighting candles instead? One hundred percent!A and that is ok with me.

I am content to surround myself with candles and memories. Feel free to light one, too! Really, we do not need to do all the things.





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