I hugged my son, long and hard, as his shoulders heaved and he let out the emotions that had roiled just below the surface all day. His sobs brought tears to my eyes and I held him so tightly, willing the pain to go away.
And yet, I know, pain has a purpose. But, that doesn’t keep me from getting angry about it when it visits my son again and again.
It’s almost Christmas in the snowy Midwest, which usually conjures Currier & Ives visions–Rockwellian scenes of family around the hearth, rosy-cheeked children sledding, cookies baking in the oven. In my house, we have some of that. Stockings hung over the fire. Presents wrapped under the tree.
We also have some rather chronic situations.
The detail on those situations is unimportant. They are just tough family issues that we deal with, as I am sure many families do. But if I struggle with them as an adult, I can only imagine how difficult my 12-year-old finds the same.
I do what I can do tonight. I make hot chocolate, put on the Christmas music and pull out the presents he needs to wrap for his aunts. Within the hour, he is smiling and even choosing Christmas carols from my playlist.
I don’t want to make light of it. I’m no miracle worker. I am Mom, though—and while I cried tonight because I feel inadequate to help him with this pain, there is a reason Mom starts with a capital letter. At times, my hug, my presence, my unconditional love, is enough to keep troubles at bay—at least for an evening.
I cried tonight because I was angry. In the same way that my son does not understand why he seems to get thrown curveballs other kids don’t have to field, I grapple with the seeming unfairness of it also. And I look at the tiny arsenal I have at my disposal. My rather limited tools to fight back—against life, fate, whatever this is—seem laughable at times. How do I make chronic tough bits better?
I don’t. I’ve realized, now that the cry is over and the calm has set in, that I don’t make the chronic tough bits better. I alleviate pain temporarily. But really, what I do, is help my son to cope with challenges, with pain. To dive into them. To feel his anger, his disappointment. And then, to feel what lies underneath those—a deep sadness for what might have been, what never will be, what is. I cook dinner. I run baths. I play the Christmas carols. I pay bills. I am, if nothing else, a solid, unwavering presence. He knows who I am. Hell, everyone knows who I am. I make no secret of it. Love me or not—here I am. I have to believe that unflappable solidity helps him somehow.
I help him realize these feelings will not be the death of him. That there will be good days and bad days. That sometimes hot chocolate will have to be enough to bring joy. And other times, we will be elated at an unexpected smile the Universe throws our way. Life is carving out space in him—he will hold multitudes, like it or not. Perhaps more multitudes than many of his peers will be asked to hold. So be it.
Holding space for someone is a sacred endeavor. Here’s wishing you the space a loved one has carved out for you this holiday season. May you see it, feel it, breathe it in and relax into that unconditional love. When it comes down to it, this is what this Christmas season is about anyway.