Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 30, 2016

Through the years

I recently found a copy of a Christmas newsletter I wrote in December 1986. That year, my husband Jerome had died in February and our daughter Mariya was born in July. Sending Christmas cards hadn’t felt right, but I wanted to thank family members and friends who had stood by me.

I’ve told several people recently that this year has been my "agony and ecstasy." ... I’ve had ups and downs in my life before, but I never knew such pain until Jerome died. I guess the thing that has kept me going in the midst of my grief has been the thought of how much he savored life in all its complexity ... I do know that I am very thankful that I have Mariya to love. She has brought joy back into my life. She has been a bridge between "a yesterday that should be remembered and a tomorrow that must be created." Mariya is a lot like her daddy - she has a beautiful smile and dimples like his and already she is demonstrating his spunk and independence ... Only recently have I been able to record some of my feelings. I’d like to share some of my journal passages with you... "Dec. 7, 1986 - to Mariya: The tree lights sparkled in your eyes. You reached for the string of twinkling red, green, blue, yellow and pink. And the magic of Christmas flickered in my heart - even if only for a moment. You are my Christmas. I love you so." ...

Soon I was reading letters from later years. I met Art the following year.

... It seems that I measure time in terms of how much Mariya has grown, and has she ever this year! She’s now an independent little toddler instead of a dependent, tiny baby ... I met a man named Art in August and I know he has helped me tremendously in the healing process. He is so kind and caring and he loves both Mariya and me and we love him. He has made me laugh again, something I thought I was incapable of after Jerome’s death ...

We married in July 1988. Daughter Katie came along four years later.

This year has been quite an eventful one for our family. We added a new daughter Katherine Joanna, on Nov. 24 - in time for us to be home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. And what a little blessing she is. She’s been here less than three weeks and already I wonder what we did without her ... We weren’t the only ones in the family to add a baby. [Sister] Gaila and Humberto had another girl, Larisa Marie, on Sept. 9 ... In May Mariya “graduated” from kindergarten ...

The first few years we were married, Art and I wrote separate newsletters - one that I sent to my family and friends and one that he sent to his - but in 1996, we decided to combine them.

The auto-immune disease that left me paralyzed for weeks and required I re-learn how to walk, talk and do almost everything else was a big part of the 1997 letter.

... It’s amazing how an experience like that can rearrange one’s priorities. Things that seemed like major problems are nothing more than minor irritations now. Things I once considered to be mundane activities are now daily blessings ...

In 1999, the girls and I traveled to Bolivia to visit Gaila and family.

... Seeing cousins Gabriela and Larisa was the highlight for the girls, but they also were fascinated by the different languages, the LONG bus ride to Copacabana and the open-air markets. Items for sale included fruits, vegetables, fish, beef tongues, flowers, plastic dishpans and brooms, but Katie’s favorite vendor was the one selling red lace panties ...

The letter also mentioned Art taking his daughter Karen to Great Britain to see where her great-great grandfather was born in Wales.

2005 proved to be a banner year. Our first great-niece Sydney was born, Art’s mother Donna had her 95th birthday and we “adopted” German daughter Nadja into our family. There was a trip to Great Britain, another to Sweden with Mom, Gaila, Gabriela and Larisa, yet another to Washington, D.C. with Uncle Stan and Aunt Kay to attend the reunion of his World War II air squadron group, and finally one to Los Angeles, for Uncle Bob's 90th birthday.

2012 brought another fun international trip to Great Britain.

... Although we weren’t in London for the Queen’s Jubilee [60th anniversary] procession along the Thames, we still participated. Some 4,200 “beacons” - what we call bonfires - were ignited across the British Commonwealth to mark the end of the celebration. One of them was located in the pasture just a hundred yards from our cottage. “Our” beacon - a pyramid of wood scraps and old pallets stacked by the local Lions Club - was lit precisely at 10:15 p.m. We felt downright British as we joined the 150-200 locals waving Union Jacks and singing “God Save the Queen!”

While this year’s letter seemed different from those of the past, now I’m not so sure. Here’s how it began:

Our 2016 was mixed with sorrow and joy, as I suppose most years are.

Mom died of congestive heart failure on Feb. 20 ... In April, we lost three more family members: cousin Bob, Linda’s mother Dolores Renberger, and Aunt Edith. But in spite of the sadness, we’re grateful we had them in our lives so long. We have many happy memories of Mom and Edith discussing their Swedish traditions and telling family stories; being with the Renbergers for family activities; and traveling to California to visit Bob and our other Freeland relatives.

That first line was dead on. When I think about the past, I mostly remember the happiness of seeing our children growing up, traveling to new places, laughing with family and friends, and celebrating milestone events. But re-reading our past holiday letters, I see a dose of sadness has always been there, too. After all, that is what life is all about - births and deaths, gains and losses, hellos and goodbyes.

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Earlier columns from 2016 may be found at: 2016 Index.
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