December 24, 2012
Less than three minutes ago, I hung up the phone with my grandma, Josephine, who hung the moon as far as I can tell.
Grandma Josephine was a Rosie the Riveter -- she worked at a steel mill during World War II. She raised three children, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
She ran the kitchens of an entire school district for over thirty years, and she survived every one of her friends and immediate family.
Every time Grandma and I speak is a thrill. Her history and experience fascinate me; her kindness and compassion inspires me; and her ability to put things into perspective is unparalleled.
Our topic of conversation today: how many cups of ground walnuts to add to our favorite holiday bread.
December 21, 2012
Although it gets better every year, I still harbor a little love/hate relationship with Christmas.
I love Christmas music, but not at Halloween. I like gift-giving, but not the incessant television commercialism. I like having friends and family together but miss mine, mostly my mom.
But even before she died in 2011 from Alzheimer's, past Christmases had been rough for both of us.
As I approach the present Christmas -- my second without her -- I remember Christmases past with Mom. They were all memorable, but not without drama.
Last year, my motto was "anywhere but home." I couldn't fathom decorating our fifteen-foot tree and not breaking down repeatedly in a puddle of tears as I unwrapped all of the too-numerous-to-count, hand made ornaments Mom had cross-stitched, sewn, beaded, adorned and crafted over the years and years of Christmases past.
December 21, 2012
I used to hustle and bustle to find just the perfect this or that for everyone on my list.
But after taking an inventory of my favorite gifts through the years, I’ve realized the things I treasured most weren’t things. They were moments.
Like the moments I spent as a little girl with my one-of-a-kind grandmother, cutting pictures out of wrapping paper or picking threads up from her carpet. (Seriously.)
“Ma Lillie” had a knack for turning the mundane into magic. Just being in her presence was a gift in itself.
So were the moments I spent in the garden with my beloved Daddy, planting a tiny pink rosebush together. And checking on it each week to see how much it had grown.
December 20, 2012
As the days wind down to Christmas and the new year, I wish for each of you in our community the gift of connection this holiday season.
Don't forget to pause during the craziness of the holidays. Pause with your family and friends. Try to bring your whole heart and whole mind to the moments you share with them and be truly present.
Let's also pause and reflect on our blessings and gifts, the ones that truly matter -- the love we give and receive, the sense of belonging we feel and foster in others, and the opportunities we have to learn from and share our lives with those around us.
Over the coming days, try to reach out to someone who is alone. Invite them into your heart, into your circle or into your home.
I am grateful to all of you who have been a part of this community in 2012. Your presence has indeed been a present.
God bless you and Merry Christmas.
December 20, 2012
There's something about the holidays that just makes me smile.
It seems that everywhere I turn on the streets of Manhattan, everyone has little skips in their steps and jingles in their humming.
Gandhi once said, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." This quote, a favorite of mine, tells us that we are in ultimate control of creating our happiness.
This ability to create our happiness from our own thoughts and actions is incredibly powerful.
For the past few years, I've struggled with my health, visiting and exhausting every well-qualified doctor in the country.
Despite my struggles, I always kept myself happy by staying positive, knowing one day I would heal and figure everything out. In these past 6 years, I never found time to worry about myself amidst working for others, and thus got very sick.
December 19, 2012
Late afternoon that Christmas Eve, I paced from room to room opening and closing closet doors, searching everywhere like a mama dog that had recently lost her pups to adoption.
I don’t know what I was looking for because the only thing I wanted had just driven away with their dad. My sons, Michael and Patrick were spending their first Christmas at his new house. I was spending mine alone.
I wandered into the kitchen to start the tea kettle and noticed our cat in a tangled mess on the hardwood floor. Mittens had knocked down one of the Christmas cards taped to the kitchen door.
She was in a frenzy trying to shake off a small card stuck to her forepaw and the more she jerked and twisted her paw, the more tangled up she became. I sat on the floor murmuring sweet nothings until she stopped flailing and I could help peel away the tape.
The card was from my new pastor, Ruth. I had received it that morning mixed in with Christmas greetings from the gas and electric companies who wished me a joyous season even though I owed them money.
December 19, 2012
For anyone already frazzled by the demands of this time of year, a visit with an Alzheimer’s-afflicted relative can upend holiday expectations and drive stress levels into the stratosphere.
I know: My father was diagnosed with the disease during my last semester of college and I spent a dozen Christmases –- and countless ordinary days in between -– confronting signs of his painful decline.
Christmas always had been special to Dad, a man of deep faith who married later in life but embraced his husband and father roles with gusto.
Growing up, I saw Dad outfit our home each December with a mangled array of rainbow-hued lights, stay up past midnight every Christmas Eve assembling toys he had window-shopped for weeks, then pop up again at dawn to cheer my brother and me as we tore through our gifts on our way to Christmas Mass.
Dad loved his family and loved his Catholic faith. And the two combined made him love Christmas.
December 18, 2012
I appeared on the TODAY Show this morning to talk about loss and grief in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.
There are millions of people who woke up today with their own private grief and who are living through some kind of painful and personal loss -- whether it's the loss of a loved one, the loss of a livelihood or the loss of an entire way of life.
Isn't it true that we're all grieving in some way or another?
That's why I wrote yesterday that "compassion, empathy, gentleness, love and presence" is the most valuable gift we can give this holiday season.
When we are living with loss, we need time and a safe place to process our grief and share what we're going through.
And I've noticed that MariaShriver.com has become that place for many people. I am deeply moved by the conversations that we're able to have here and I'm proud of this community of Architects of Change.
December 17, 2012
Image credit: gailshaner on Etsy
“Of all the human heart endures, how small the part laws or kings cause or cure” -- Samuel Johnson
Twenty children in Newtown used to play together, do school work together, listen together, and dream together. Now they don’t.
Another tragedy confronts our country, and we wonder what we can do and how we can keep this from happening again. What we can do together in our hometowns, as those innocent children might have shown us if they were still laughing with their classmates?
Some of us on the left appeal to our leaders in Washington to pass more restrictions on guns or provide more funds for mental health assistance.
Some of us on the right appeal to our leaders about changing the culture in Hollywood or returning prayer to our schools.
We all think it is about making “them” in D.C. do something to solve the problem. But for every “them,” there exists an “us.” We mourn, we move on, and until “they” agree with “us,” nothing much gets done.
December 17, 2012
I went to church yesterday morning and our pastor spoke about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.
We prayed for the families as a church community and I reflected on all the pain and terrible loss of life.
I came home to see this story about Robbie Parker, a father of one of the victims, who reached across the river of grief and said he was thinking of the suspect's family who are also grieving.
I wept for his pain and was humbled by his words. His goodness in the midst of debilitating grief blew me away.
We all struggle when we lose someone we love, particularly when it's sudden and unexpected like the tragedy in Connecticut.
You are in shock. You are numb. And reality takes a long time to kick in.
Compassion, empathy, gentleness, love and presence -- it's what people who are grieving need most of all.
In fact, it's what people who are simply living need most of all.