photo courtesy: Alexandra Petruck
This time of year we are hard-pressed to go anywhere and not hear jolly carols, receive happy greetings, and watch movies about the joy of the season.
Whatever your religious leanings, the reason for the season could be the birth of Christ or just an opportunity to enjoy the gathering of loved ones and exchange gifts.
But for many it is also a time of sadness, loneliness and heartache.
I attended a church service this morning where the sermon was on joy. The minister asked the congregation to talk about what makes them joyful or jolly.
One woman took the microphone and said, "Our family is currently going through a difficult time settling my father's estate." She sat in the pew with her shoulders curled inward, speaking quietly.
"My brother and I haven't spoken for a long time, he was estranged for many years, and this has given us an opportunity to reconnect."
Another parishioner rose who teaches at the university. One of his preacher students discovered that she has cancer.
With no money and having to move to a rental unit that is closer to downtown, he knew that she was in a difficult spot. He put a request to other church ministers to donate to her plight and in one day he raised $8,000.
The final person to speak was very moving. She told us that this would be the first year that she would not be spending with her family. "It was a deliberate decision as it would be easier to spend the holidays apart than be together."
The most striking thing was that she ended by saying that she and her brother live next door to each other. When she finished speaking, she started to weep. I don't think there was a dry eye in the room.
I couldn't imagine not being around my family at Christmas and being estranged from my only brother. But a bitter divorce that happened years ago has caused us to not be together with my dad.
Some families cope well with divorce but ours is not one of them. Separating the celebrations doesn't make it any happier or joyful when you're always thinking what that other person is doing.
The pressure to be jolly is not at play for everyone, but I see it as an opportunity for others to be a little kinder, slower and more thoughtful this season.
You may meet someone who needs it and that may bring them a little more joy.
Merry Christmas everyone.
My husband and I turned 50 years old today.
There's no getting around what a novelty it is. Sharing the same birthday and now turning 50 years old together.
Last year in one of my first blogs I wrote about what turning 49 meant to me. It was just after my husband had finished cancer treatments for glioblastoma. That year and the year before it were a roller coaster of events and emotions.
Now here we are!
Adam really wanted to throw a party to celebrate our dual 50th birthdays, but I was against it. I love a good party, going to them and throwing them for others, but this one didn't appeal to me.
For years we talked about how we would like to celebrate turning 50. I was more interested in going away while Adam always talked about having a big blowout with family and friends.
I suggested to him that he have a party, and I would help him organize it and attend as a guest. He said, "How can you be a guest when its your birthday too?" It made perfect sense to me, but he wasn't buying it.
Then one day this past summer I met the remarkable Elly Gotz for a coffee. He told me that year he celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary as well as his 90th birthday. Both were with parties.
Elly and I had talked about his hard life in the Holocaust and his love of life. He always found a way to have fun.
He learned about the rough times that my family had gone through recently.
I told him about our upcoming big birthdays and that I wasn't interested in doing a celebration. Elly leaned into the table, looked me in the eye and quietly said, "Janet, have the party."
What he was telling me was to enjoy life, celebrate the moments and not hold back.
So this past weekend we had a big party. Love, laughter, and good dance music filled the room. It was a great feeling and I don't regret it for a minute.
And 50? So far, so good.
I am a little excited but more scared about it.
My 16 year-old son passed his driving test last week. He can now drive on his own on the city streets of Toronto, but not on the highway. That's for another day's test.
For all of the years that I cringed at having to drive my children to their programs when they were younger, I long for those days now.
I AM excited for him and see from his older sister that she is a responsible driver. But deep down, I'm scared sh**less at the thought of him being behind the wheel on his own.
It's not necessarily because of his capabilities but how I see other drivers and pedestrians behaving when I'm out.
The examples are endless on any given day: jaywalking, faces in the phones while crossing the road, drivers who text and drive, bicyclists weaving in and out of traffic without a helmet, drivers speeding, drivers going too slowly, turning without a signal and flipping the bird at you for no big reason.
I hate to throw this into my sentence but, "It was a different time when I was learning how to drive".
The first time my daughter took the car on her own, she drove around the neighbourhood with her little brother in the passenger seat. It wasn't far but they loved it. I was nervous until they returned home.
We'll do the same for him but, with her being away from school, it might just be him alone in the car.
I wish there was something like a 'Teen Driver Alone, Nervous Mom At Home' sticker that I could affix to the car.
The best that I can do for him is trust in his ability and hope for the best.
Recently, my husband and I turned 49 years old. Yes, we are exactly the same age.
Adam and I discovered this on our first date while we sat at a tiny table in a popular restaurant in Toronto’s gay village. We were just another couple getting to know each other, talking for hours. We chatted about our careers, funny details about our families, favourite places to travel and where we’d still like to go.
“When were you born?” I asked him. He told me December 6.
“No way”, I said.
“Yeah, December 6”, he said.
I told him it was also my birthday.
So then I asked, “What year?” Adam said, “1968”.
I saw stars. You hear about this in the movies, but it really happened to me.
Full disclosure, I am a very sceptical person, so I asked Adam to produce identification. We were set-up by a mutual friend, so I somehow thought that details about me, including my birthday, were shared in advance.
Sure enough, his ID proved that we are birthday twins.
Many people our age feel sad, depressed or even indifferent about getting older.
Perhaps they feel that they haven’t achieved certain life goals, or don’t have a partner to love. Maybe they’ve experienced tragedy and their life has taken a sudden turn.
For me, I’m happy for every year I get to share my birthday with my husband.
Back in the fall of 2016, my husband was diagnosed with Glioblastoma (GBM), the most aggressive type of brain cancer.
Complaining about hearing and memory loss, as well as feelings of exhaustion, a CT scan and MRI at the hospital proved that it was GBM.
The doctor shared the grim news with him along with all of the disheartening facts and figures.
Adam was alone in a hospital room with no one by his side but a man in the next bed recovering from back surgery, and his visiting wife.
Fighting tears and sounding scared, he told me as I drove down to see him.
When I arrived, we hugged and I said that everything would be okay. From that moment, we began our mission to surround ourselves with the best medical professionals and support. Adam was 47 years old.
Over the next few months we experienced a lot.
Two weeks following his diagnosis, he had a full craniotomy and the tumour was successfully removed.
With 47 staples in his head, he left the hospital the next day and we began his recovery.
Most of our days were spent taking our mini poodle Ella for long walks, enjoying quiet time with our teenage children, and watching lots of old movies on TV.
At the same time, our daughter was preparing her university applications, and our son was beginning Grade 9. It was an important year for them and we wanted to help them through it.
We welcomed so many visitors, flowers, gift baskets and prepared meals. Honestly, I enjoyed the break from cooking. All of this made our house feel full of love and we welcomed every bit of it.
The weeks following were filled with radiation and chemotherapy treatments at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. It also marked our 48th birthdays.
Fifteen months have passed since his diagnosis and Adam remains cancer-free.
It’s impossible for anyone to predict what the future holds, but one thing is for certain. We are already planning our 50th birthday bash.