As a self-branded cautious optimist, I always loved the promise that seemed to beckon with each turning of a new year… and it always made me a little nervous. In our Horatio Alger-esque way, we treat every New Year’s like a fresh page, if not a whole new chapter or book that by sheer virtue of being attempted again, must be the better for it. The woman who works the register in my local coffee shop wished me a “happy new year” this morning along with her own philosophic addition: “each year can only get better, right?” Our fundamental need to believe in brighter tomorrows is, I think, one of most beautiful aspects of being human, and surely a source of our unique resilience.
Yet what this dogged determination to embrace the new fails to acknowledge is that sometimes, saying goodbye to the “old” is not what we would choose. Sometimes it is painful.
Truth be told – and as much as it seems countercultural to admit this – I am really dreading New Year’s this year — because I am simply not ready to say goodbye to 2013. For me, 2013 will forever be the terrible year that I lost my mom… and it is the year to which I cannot let go because it will forever be the last year that had my mom in it. Every year for the past several years, I had the good fortune to celebrate New Year’s in various gatherings replete with great friends, great food and ample champagne; I had my husband at my side to kiss me at midnight and my children happily ensconced with their friends no more than a room away. And each year shortly after 12:00 I would always tuck away to call my mom, to share this annual turning point with her too… and underneath our expected yet heartfelt wishes for “all good things” in this new year, there was this implicit, unspoken prayer: “please, god, or the universe, or whomever might be in charge of these things, please let it actually BE a good year, and please let us all be able to wish each other the same this time NEXT year.”
This is the first year that I won’t get to make that phone call. Just one of many unwelcome “new beginnings” that the death of a loved one creates.
The run-up to New Year’s Eve are of course the holidays starting with Thanksgiving (which this year coincided with Hanukkah – and which for us also coincided with the momentous occasion of our oldest daughter Hannah’s Bat Mitzvah – a magnificent day – that I still cannot believe my mom didn’t live to see). Then just a week before comes Christmas (the eve of which happened to be my parents’ anniversary, and it was grim comfort to realize that for the first time in 24 years, they were once again together for it). If grief has a way of distorting, as if through a funhouse mirror, our view of both the big and small moments of life, I think this is especially true of the holidays. If you’ve ever really grieved, you know that the pointed differences between “what was” and “what now is” – the difference between retreating into memories of loved ones versus creating new ones with them, is overwhelmingly poignant.
Perhaps the bonus gift we earn through having really loved, and having experienced enough trials and tribulations of life: is gratitude. This New Year’s I know I will most certainly be grateful both for what was… AND what is. I will continue to live up to both of my parents’ hopes and expectations of me by tapping depths of strength and purpose and positivity even greater than what I thought I already possessed. I hope – believe – know – there will be a whole bunch of wonderfully ordinary and maybe even a few wonderfully extraordinary moments awaiting in this year to come. But even as I will raise my glass to it along with everyone else, for me, it will be just very hard to watch this page turn.
So I hope those around me will understand if there are some tears dropping into my champagne, when this year’s ball is dropping. That may not be what this occasion is supposed to inspire… But it’s what simply and genuinely IS.