For me the holidays are bittersweet. The incidence of death increases around the holiday season, and although that may seem like an anecdotal myth, statistics have shown this. It was true in my years working as a nurse, and also in my own personal experience. For example, my father died more than 20 years ago on December 21st a month after my husband's grandmother passed away. About the same time the following year, my nursing mentor, Lynda, committed suicide; and more recently a dear friend, Jim, passed away after a short illness.
There has been speculation as to why death might be more common during the holiday season. Some claim that it has to do with the psychological stress of the holidays, others claim it might be connected to loneliness, some say that those who are already sick, make the decision to move on so that loved ones can celebrate the season without the burden of caretaking.
So, it makes sense to consider this time of year a time to honor our loved ones, our special relationships, and a good time to connect with old friends who we have not seen in a while. It has been said that, "People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime." The idea is that even though some of our relationships end, we should not consider it to be a loss, but rather, we should be thankful to have had the experience in the first place. Even if we have had relationships that did not end well, chances are there was a reason the person entered our life, and that there is a lesson to be learned from the encounter.
I have read that one of the biggest regrets of those who are facing death is not having kept in contact with old friends. Even though social media sites, such as Facebook, have made connections more possible, it is not always possible. For instance, it is particularly more difficult to find women who do not keep their maiden names. Some months ago, I spotted a familiar name from my teen years on Facebook. My childhood friend, Tamar, was never married so it was easy enough to notice her unique name. On her wall she wrote, "California Dreaming for my 60th!" My eyes lit up and I responded to her announcement. I asked if she remembered me, and she said, "Of course I do." I told her that I lived in California and it would be great to see her. I did not think she would follow-up, but she did. We spent a delightful weekend together in Santa Barbara.
Ordinarily, Tamar's 60th birthday would have gone unacknowledged by me, although every October 17th for the past 40 years I wondered about her. We met at the International Teen Camp in Lausanne, Switzerland when we were both sixteen. Our parents were trying to bring some culture into our lives and get us out of the heat of New York. In Switzerland, we were roommates and immediately clicked; we both had similar sensibilities and senses of humor. It was the summer of 1969 -- the year of the first moon landing -- and we were those typical teen girls interested in anything but science and moon landings. We loved reading, art and socializing, giggling and flirting with the cute boys. On that special day in July we all sat on the floor of the rather large gymnasium and watched the first moon landing with teens from around the world on a small TV hanging in the gymnasium's upper corner. As Americans we were literally and figuratively "sitting on top of the world."
Life was simpler in the 1960s, there were no computers, cell phones, or text messages. The only technology resided in telephones, small black and white TVs and transistor radios. Some of us owned record players for 33s and 45s as well as tape cassette players. I distinctly remember the entire camp and staff on numerous occasions seated in that same gymnasium singing Beatles songs, even though I am certain that some of the non-English speaking campers did not understand the lyrics. And, it was normal to not communicate with our parents for the entire summer. If a parent received a phone call from overseas, it meant that something was wrong. Congenial communication was done the old-fashioned way -- with those blue outlined airmail letters and scenic postcards.
During my adult years, I have made some good friends living in Southern California, but there is something special about reconnecting with old friends and reminiscing about years gone by. This is especially significant as I approach my sixtieth birthday next year. What Tamar and I have both come to learn through our reconnection is how little we both changed. She still saw me as a grown-up hippie, and I saw her as smart and accepting, a good communicator with a great sense of humor. I was able to locate a photo taken of her in our room in Switzerland. She had a pillow on her bed that said, "Do Not Enter." On the back of one of her photos which she taped on the wall behind my bed, she wrote, "Dearest Diana: In the short time that we've known each other, you've showed me what it is really like to love. I can't remember what life was like before meeting you -- it could not have been any good. It really is true love. I love you, Tamar." Her words warmed my heart then and still do. When we come into someone's life we have no idea the impact we will have on them. What an excellent reminder this was, of the importance of being kind and compassionate because we never know what the future holds for us, as individuals, and in relationship with one another.