A Second Approach.

By: Jen Shoop

There was another post I wanted to write for Christmas yesterday, but it felt too maudlin for the joyous occasion, and I hope you’ll excuse its proximity to the holiday here.

I stumbled across the picture above and today’s post wrote itself, coming into focus in a flash, as I transported myself back to the small-town clapboard Church nestled in snowfall I visited not long ago.  

About five years ago, I spent Christmas in upstate New York.  We were gathering around a loved one who was dying.  We brought our merry best, but the holiday was somber, and we were all living on heart-strings.  I found my siblings quietly brushing tears out of their eyes when they thought no one was looking, and then laughing too loud and riotously when they knew people were.  There were awkward exchanges, lags of unusual silence, ungainly attempts at humor, and we wordlessly forgave those gaffes as we tiptoed around the real reason we were there.  We were tacking and jiving inelegantly as we attempted to accommodate an impossible emotional ballast.

On Christmas Eve, we walked two snow-covered blocks to a small white Church similar to the one above, and the rhythms of Mass were a comfort, though my mind was elsewhere.  I didn’t want to leave the Church, but then again, I did — I craved distraction, or resolution, or something I could wrap my arms around.  Anything but that purchaseless wait.  Mainly I worried for my sibling, who would soon be bearing a grief greater than life and we all knew it.

On Christmas Eve, my sister and I stayed up after everyone else had fallen asleep.  We sat on a couch in the living room, her face silhouetted against the moonglow from the snow outside, and we exchanged little nothings in the absence of having big somethings to say.  We tried desperately to hack into Mr. Magpie’s iTunes account to watch “Meet Me in St. Louis,” a shared favorite of ours from childhood.  It holds such potent personal memory for us that she had the Judy Garland version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (which is from the movie) played at her wedding reception a few weeks before Christmas two years later, just for me.  And I cried at her sentimentality not only because it is our song and she carved out a special place on her special night for me, but because it reminded me of our fruitless attempts to watch that scene that night in New York when we were heart-broken and in despairing search for a salve, sitting in the dimly lit room together, anticipating something entirely different from what we’d anticipated the twenty-odd years of Christmas Eves prior.

Christmas hasn’t quite felt the same for me ever since I saw it through the prism of imminent grief, ever since I found my attention fasten upon a different kind of meaning to the word “family.”  I felt at once deeply connected to and alienated from everyone, each of us processing the finality of death in our own ways, each of us agonizing for my sibling.

When we gather under brighter circumstances, after years that answer, I feel a richness of emotion I can’t quite put my finger on.  It has the shape of gratitude, but it’s more deeply situated, tempered by the weight of that Christmas five years ago, aware of the threatening evanescence of our good health and high spirits.  Is this maturity, I wonder?  Is this the world-weariness that comes with age and experience?  Do certain holidays and rooms in old homes and sweaters we have loved and smells we have hated accrue a kind of layered meaning as we travel through life such that much of what we touch, much of what we interact with on a daily basis, becomes a pastiche of mottled emotion?  Where the mere phrase “Merry Christmas” can conjure twenty five separate feelings at once, and some days I clutch onto the Christmas Eve excitement of my youth and others I shy away from the weight of an early January death? 


+Now feels like an appropriate time to talk about the sense of an ending but then, maybe, we should lighten the mood.  What do you think?

+This sweater is magic.  Also love this peplum style (on sale!)

+If you’re still looking for a chic white boot (and none of these are cutting it for you), consider these.  Love.  This Western-style boot is v. in right now.

+These mismatched earrings are so fun!

+OK THIS IS MAJOR.  Perfect dress for a milestone birthday.

+Have always loved these Herend bunnies — what an #extra baby gift for a loved one.  Etsy has loads of vintage ones at great prices, too — like this one.  I often get questions from readers about what to get a mother/mother-in-law/grandmother who has EVERYTHING, and I like to suggest a sentimental piece of vintage Herend.  I bought my mother one of their classic Herend shoes after mini was born as a thank you for all of her care and love, and she already has one for each of her children so I thought — why not one more for a new grandbaby?

+Traveling somewhere warm soon?  Loving this, everything from Banjanan, and this swimsuit.  (PSA: two of my favorite bathing suits EVER are on sale right now: Marysia’s Venice, which I own in black, and Solid & Striped’s Anne Marie, which I own in an aqua and white cabana stripe.  The cuts of both of these suits are magical.  

+I had a bunch of questions about my pink silk Target headband find and I am obsessed.  The quality is great for the price.  Do know that it’s a wide headband — more of a turban look — but I’m very into it.  You can read more about this collection of hair products — and see how a very chic blogger styles them — at Sincerely Jules.

+New lust list entrant: a Moncler Grenoble bomber.  Oof these are CHIC.  I love this one (you don’t wear tweed cable knit puffers while skiing?) and this one.

+Been very into pink these days; love this vest.

+Musings on reading and musings on writing.  And — are you reading our January book club pick?

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6 thoughts on “A Second Approach.

  1. This is a beautiful, beautiful post and has me tearing up. I do think that maturity has its way — for some of us, at least — of tempering joy and pain and rendering that “pastiche of mottled emotion” of which you write. It’s an inevitable part of growing up, I think. This had me thinking about my 2018: my beloved grandmother passed away in March, and her funeral mass was held at her parish in my hometown. I wondered if I’d always remember that church, which was not the one in which I received my sacraments, by that terribly sad day in which I buried my last living grandparent. But then my niece was baptized at the very same parish just before the end of the year. It was a joyous occasion, of course, but meant even more because it was also a way to renew my memory of that space, if that makes sense.

    Anyway, it sounds like you and your sister have a tremendously close relationship (how sweet of her to incorporate your song into her wedding night!) and you are so lucky to have each other! xo

    1. Wow, what a poetic way to think of that Church; how beautiful. Your note was also a reminder to me of the continuum of support the Church/faith offers, from burials to Baptisms. I’m so sorry about your grandmother; my heart goes out to you.


  2. The emotions you talk about here, with the weight of maturity, always make me think of Wordsworth and “Tintern Abbey” when he writes about the way his days of youthful innocence are past but he’s found “abundant recompense” in the “the still, sad music of humanity” and a “sense sublime.” These things always come at a cost, but somehow they make all our subsequent experiences richer. I survived the greatest and most profound loss eight years ago and I thought my life was ruined. Now I am astonished by the joy that exists alongside the grief I carry. And this post captures much of that so beautifully. I’ve just discovered your blog this year—I enjoy both your light and heavy posts. Wishing you a happy 2019.

    1. Wow – thank you so much for this. I loved the references to Wordsworth — evidently worth a revisit these days. I’m sure I’d understand him in an entirely new light. Thank you for the recommendation.

      I am so sorry to hear about your loss and comforted (?) by the fact that you related to my words — thank you so much for reading along and for the ultra-generous words. I’m so flattered and happy you’ve found me. xoxo

  3. I have been an avid reader of your blog for the last year (although I truly think the term blog does not do it justice, I reckon it more to a daily column) and I am continually struck by the relevance of your topics. A close friend and I often discuss your writing, as well as shopping finds, and one comment we make is how you seem to be reading our minds. While I am neither married nor have a child, there is always something in your writing I find so applicable to my life.

    Today’s post has truly confirmed that. I lost my beloved, incredible, one of a kind grandmother on Saturday 12/22. Our hearts are truly broken but we know she is in a better place. We like to think my grandfather greeted her in heaven with a martini in hand and asked her to dance. I find solace from my family but also my faith. I do not consider myself overtly religious but as I have gotten older I see what an incredible gift my Catholic faith has been, and to my parents and grandparents I am very grateful for that. During times of loss, especially, I find comfort in that faith.

    This comment has become far longer than intended but I found myself not wanting Christmas Eve Mass to end this year and I know that I looked at Christmas through a different lense, one that brought me back to the true meaning of the day. So, to wrap up this mini novel, I wanted to say thank you for your writing and somehow always eloquently articulating something I also am feeling.

    1. Oh Aimee. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I had to wipe a tear away when I heard you describe your grandfather greeting her with a martini and a dance. What a lovely, poignant image; thanks for sharing a little bit about your (chic-sounding!) grandparents.

      I’m with you — my faith has gotten me through the roughest patches of my life, even when I was less devout. It is so comforting to turn to prayer, to have somewhere to look/go when you feel you have nothing else.

      Thank you so much for writing in. I’m glad my words reached you, though I do now wish they’d been a bit more reassuring, a bit more uplifting, for your sake. Hang in there. Thinking of you.


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