Finding the Magic of the Holiday Season in the Present With Chronic Illness

The holiday season is upon us, and while for many this time of year ushers in feelings of joy, generosity, warmth and even a little magic, the staples of the holiday season – giving, making lists, making resolutions, making time – also carry different meanings for those of us who live with chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

A week ago I was listening to my daughter read her letter to Santa Claus – a very ambitious list of popular toys and tech, and some surprising items, like gifts for her friends – and I found myself thinking about her lighthearted expression and the sheer excitement on her face as she read that list to me, the anticipation of the magic that still exists for her because she’s young and innocent enough to feel that anything is possible. But in that moment, I couldn’t help but think about how my own very serious reality stands in contrast to her magic, and to the spirit of the holiday season. It wasn’t a somber realization, but one that does makes you think about time and resolutions: about the past and the future.

The holidays are polarizing by nature: we’re transported into the past on the notes of familiar melodies and decorations, and before we know it, New Year’s Eve with all of its revelry and hope suddenly shoves us into speculating about the future. Whether that expedited round trip is rejuvenating or challenging depends entirely on what we’ve experienced, what our pre-diagnosis life was like, and what our current circumstances ask of us now – it’s the makings of an emotional tidal wave that often leaves physical symptoms in its aftermath.

I’ve noticed that time is a different concept for me after diagnosis than it was beforehand, and so are the holidays. I often feel like I’m running short on hope and time, and that I don’t have the energy to match the spirit of the season; it’s emotionally and physically exhausting to balance the extra commitments with my symptoms and treatments, let alone find the magic again – the same magic I’m so thankful my daughter still feels. But I’m finding, slowly, that a little bit of the magic comes back with every post-diagnosis holiday season. When I reflect on that, I can see it’s really a balancing act between the past and the future – reconciling the ghosts of my past and my inevitable future decline with the simple joys that are sometimes right in front of me.

sunset over the ocean

So maybe for me, the magic of the holiday season comes back a little more each year because I’m learning to find it in the present rather than in memories of years past or in grand New Year’s resolutions. The magic is in the joy on my daughter’s face, and in the occasional conversations with family and friends near and far, and in the love that has been a constant melody playing in the background on good days and bad. The magic is in the tangible things, and it’s right here, right now.

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