I have been thinking a lot about the holidays this year. I think about how blessed I am right now, with our son who lights up my life, my husband who works so hard for our family, our home, our furbabies, and of course, the newest little one seemingly chugging away inside of me. I really do not know what I did to be this lucky.
I do remember that I did not always feel this way. I remember the Christmas right after Gummy Bear died, when I thought I would never be truly happy or feel blessed again. I sat at my parents' dining table that Christmas, in the exact same chair where I had sat that past Thanksgiving, nine weeks pregnant and filled with hope. Only as I sat there now, barely a month later, I was devoid of any happiness. I pasted a fake smile on my face, for the benefit of my family, so I would not steal their joy along with what had already been stolen from me.
I kept that smile pasted on for so long that there were times that I almost forgot it was fake. I kept on my mask, hiding my grief from the world, so I would not burden others with my pain.
Today, something happened that reminded me so starkly of those days of hidden sorrows. I was at the grocery store with Will and we were in a hurry. I had a cart filled with groceries, he was starting to get grumpy, and I was eager to get out of there and home for his nap. As we approached the register, another lady got there about a fraction of a second after me. It was basically a tie, but I could have taken the front place if I had wanted to. I almost did.
Then, I looked at her cart and realized that it didn't have very much in it and that the nice thing to do would be to just let her go first. So, I nodded, indicating she should go ahead and she did, casting a grateful glance back at me as she unloaded her few things on to the conveyor belt.
"Thank you," she said, smiling at me. "Your son is adorable."
And he was being extra cute. He had stopped his grumpiness for the time being and was flirting in the best of Will-styles. She played peek-a-boo with him while we waited.
She told me about her own son, and how Will reminded her of him at his age. Then a strange look, a shadow, crossed over her face.
"My son died two weeks ago. I am just bringing these things to my daughter-in-law. She is pregnant and due next Friday. She is having a rough time. I am hoping she'll eat something, anything."
My heart constricted in my chest as I expressed my sympathies. She dabbed quickly at her eyes, thanked me, and then cleared her throat. To look at this woman, you would never have guessed that her world had crumbled. She was well-dressed and manicured, and the haunted eyes had only come out for a few seconds. She was already retreating back behind her mask, playing peek -a-boo again with Will. . . and the rest of the world, too.
I am not glad for this woman. I am so sorry for her loss and for the pain she is experiencing. What I am grateful for, however, is the reminder that she provided me.
I will pass many, many people this holiday season and beyond. I will not know their stories, not have a clue what lies behind their smiles. It may be that they are feeling genuinely happy and blessed at this moment in time, or it may be that they are wearing a mask that I won't ever get to see behind. It reminds me to be kind with everyone because I don't know their story. I don't know what their real feelings are, what they are grappling with underneath their outward appearance. Everyone has their own road to travel, their own pain and triumphs. We may never know what a stranger is facing, but we should strive to never make their obstacles any greater.