Lesson #1 - If you feel it, say it.
I have a family that tends to be incredibly resilient. I am lucky enough to still have all of my grandparents, even though they are all in their 80s and 90s. But death is a part of life and we have had some close calls lately. And, between last year, in which my dad had a cancer scare, and this year, in which my grandmother fell and broke her hip, my mom has been hit hard.
A little background on my mom here... She is a smart, dedicated, deeply religious woman who is far too good at most things. From not long after my birth, she realized that her only child was an independent, stubborn little free spirit that was, on one hand, very similar to her but, in the areas that weren't similar, was her exact opposite. We clashed often and she has always had a difficult time dealing with a daughter who does everything in the wrong order.
Growing up, I learned to show love in the things you did. For one thing, my family is big on gifts. But, as far as non-monetary things go, we always got together for every birthday or event imaginable and each event included huge dinners. Our presence and food was our way of showing love.
While love was always in the actions, it was very rarely spoken. I used to say that I grew up in a cold home. But that's not true. Love was shown, it just wasn't always spoken and, for a long time, I saw the actions not as acts of love but as the things that everyone does. It never occurred to me that some families don't gather to celebrate everything together. And it wasn't until my divorce, when I was occasionally excluded from some of those get togethers, that I saw them for the gift that they really were.
However, my grandmothers injury (and the realization of her frailty that came with it) hit my mom hard this year. She found herself facing the thought of losing someone that mattered that much and it scared her. I felt for her in the days and months that followed as I found her, for the first time, letting her guard down and admitting her own weaknesses. I tried to offer as much support as I could, even if that sometimes just meant listening without asking for anything from her.
This Christmas, while still containing the little stressors and bickering that comes with every big holiday, was especially joyful for my own little family. We were together, which was the most important, but we also had the means to provide for a beautiful, simple Christmas for our kids, our families, and each other.
But the best gift I got was not wrapped, or even tangible. It came via email after all the presents were opened and the chaos had died down. It was a short email from my mom that said she just wanted me to know that seeing me so obviously happy had made this an extra special Christmas. She told me she was proud of me for working with Not-So-Ex on our relationship and putting things back together again. And she told me she loved me.
During the divorce, I often felt that my family's love was revoked when Not-So-Ex and I split. I thought they needed to be able to put me in a nice little category to be happy. But, what I realized later was that they just saw my unhappiness no matter how hard I tried to hide it. And they wanted more for me than that. They loved me far more than I loved myself and they wanted me to be happy.
It sounds silly but seeing there on my computer, in black and white, that my parents loved me and were proud of me brought me to tears.
So anyway, lesson #1 has been learned by both myself and my parents. If you feel something, say it. You may not get a second chance. Tomorrow is promised to no one and love should be shown AND voiced as often as possible.