I received an e-mail from someone in New Mexico last week. This e-mail was something I really didn’t need to see. It was a “save the date” for the 40th reunion of my high school class next summer. That just can’t be right, I thought — until I did the math. What a downer, and right here at the holidays, too.
But such is the nature of even the most joyous of times. While many people are excited and happy, others continue to struggle with the many setbacks that life too often throws at you. And I’m thinking about setbacks much more burdensome than a reluctant acceptance of your own advancing years. The arrival of Thanksgiving or Christmas doesn’t exempt folks from major difficulties, and sometimes the holidays actually make coping with them more arduous.
I could offer the example of our own family. My mother-in-law, Lois Chambers Webb, died 11 years ago today, which that year fell the weekend before Thanksgiving. For this reason, if no other, I have an extra tug on my heart when I read through the announcements printed on Page 2 of the Bulletin at this time of year.
Several other families we’ve known through the years have also experienced bereavement during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, and even though the timing of such things is never good, the recollections of that difficult year tend to dim future festivities for a long, long time.
Whenever someone who has meant so much to you and who lived a productive and giving life passes away, we pause to honor that individual and the legacy he or she leaves. But the void that person also leaves will linger for years. Whether it’s an individual known to the entire community, or someone remarkable only to his or her loved ones, each person made a lasting impression on someone.
News of my high school reunion reminded me of the couple my wife Valeri and I sat with at the dinner held during the last official gathering of my class in 2003. The woman and I had been in school together in North Carolina before both our fathers accepted transfers to New Mexico during the mid-1960s. At our high school there, she became the editor of the yearbook, I became the editor of the campus newspaper and we worked together a lot. But independently, we became good friends with siblings from another high school, and she later married one of the brothers.
I spent two Thanksgivings during my four years of college with his family, so it was very good to see them after 30-plus years. Before the reunion, I learned that his parents — after moves to several states — were back in the same city now, so I got to visit them, too.
As is often the case, promises to stay in touch have not been dutifully kept, but I did hear of a plan one of his two sisters had for a reunion of their large family. The siblings had scattered from coast to coast, and as a result, it had been decades since they all had been together at one place, at one time. And there was some urgency, because their mother’s health was failing.
She died before it could happen.
Then, there came another tragedy. Another classmate informed me several months ago that the sister who tried to arrange the reunion had apparently taken her own life — on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.
Time, however, marches on. And so do the holidays. But these assorted loose ends all seem to be pulling toward the same conclusion: None of us is guaranteed another Thanksgiving, another Christmas, another year — or even another day. We must make the most of the time we have now, and celebrate each day as though it is a gift, because it is. Then, when the days of sadness arrive, as they will sooner or later, we’ll be able to manage a slight smile through the tears, and some good memories will help offset any regrets.
Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.