No. 21: What’s Missing

Artist: Life
Title: What’s Missing/Absence/Loss/Memory/Time
Date: Timeless
Culture: Metaphysical, Philosophical
Provenance: I wish I knew.

I haven’t written in a long time. Largely that’s because I’ve been short on time, but it’s also because I’ve been short on motivation. There’s a theme of absence here. I’ve been absent from my writing self because of a lack of other things. And so my blog itself has been absent.

I’ve been especially aware of absence now that it’s Christmas time. Silly as it may sound, I was dreading getting my Christmas stuff out this year because my tree fell over last year, and many of my favorite ornaments were ruined. There was the deep blue glass ball ornament with the silhouette of a magical Victorian village that my mom gave me on one of our last Christmases together. There was the colorful glass moped I picked out with my son at the bookstore near our house when he was three. And there was the glass orca my dad gave him, which somehow encapsulated my son’s life at that time–his love of the beach and nature and all things wild. There were others, too. I was dreading opening up the box of ornaments and noting their absence.

I also was dreading noticing the absence of several other decorations I got from my dad after my mom died that were lost in my move East last year. Most notably, there was the large red, gold, and green fabric ball with the faux mistletoe that we always hung over doorways each Christmas. When my parents were married (the second time) they took their wedding photo underneath this ball. The loss of this mistletoe ball, I kid you not, often keeps me up at night.

I feel a bit silly for feeling so upset about these losses, but I guess they are metaphors for those other things we both celebrate and arm ourselves against when we celebrate Christmas. This year, for the first time in a long time, we were going to have a big group visiting us for Christmas, but that was cancelled because of Omicron and administrative complications for my family living abroad. So we’ll be feeling my family’s absence more acutely this year. And of course that then makes me think of the people we’ve lost. My aunt, most recently (who I still keep thinking I’ll be getting a call from any day, or a birthday card in the mail), and my mother, of course. Then my mind marches back in time, remembering others who I celebrated holidays with in years past who are no longer here.

And it goes on: There are not only the Christmases past but the cities I no longer live in, the houses I moved out of, the friends I lost touch with, the versions of myself I have lost touch with, the babies who are no longer babies.

I think that’s kind of the point of Christmas and any of these once-a-year holidays. There is the weight of absence, always (for each year is inevitably changed), that is balanced with tradition, that sameness and wholeness that bring comfort and stave away the ache that can come with change.

Tucked in between the folds of Christmas cookies, sweet-smelling pomanders, and Bing Crosby is a quiet reckoning. Each year, I silently nod my head in acknowledgment of these absences and quickly turn my attention back to the cheers, the toasts, the hugs and kisses, the too much food on a cold, lazy morning. I watch my daughter twirl around the room in a frilly skirt and listen to my son say Whoa in his distinctive eight-year-old way. It’s all woven together.


4 thoughts on “No. 21: What’s Missing

  1. As always, I love everything you write, Ellen. Christmas definitely brings back so many memories of bigger family gatherings, laughter, cooking, eating together, and at the same time, we see time marching on, kids (and grandchildren and nieces and nephews!) growing up faster than we imagined. Life is full of changes, and we adapt to some of them so much easier than others. I hate your family gathering was cancelled and know all of you do, too. Continue to create new traditions and may 2022 be a better year for everyone. Sending hugs.


  2. Beautiful sentiments Ellen. I too think about all those nostalgic family Christmases from long ago. But new memories with your own family are special too. Happy 2022.


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