In the triage hall I lay with thin curtains separating myself from two other beds, one to my left and one to my right. On my right side, through the thin curtain, is an older gentleman visiting Calgary from Toronto who is with his son. I’m unsure where he is from but his son is with him, assisting him in explaining to the doctor something about his kidney. I listen halfheartedly as he describes his symptoms to the emergency doctor and I look up to the clock on the wall. The long black hand sits at ten, the short black hand at three. I do the math: 3:10am and it’s been twenty minutes since I threw up, the longest break from vomit in almost a day.

The IV bag attached to me drips cool saline at a pace that feels glacial. The black down jacket I wore to the hospital is wrapped around my toes and I yank up the bottom part to make a pseudo blanket. On the other side of me a nurse is delivering a lecture to a woman about the dangers of smoking with asthma. The woman is wheezing, a visceral and frightening noise that sounds like it comes from the body of an older, stooped, ashen looking person. When I leave a few hours later a glance through the curtain reveals a woman not much older than I.

Spending half the night in the hospital to get rehydrated after 24 hours of severe vomiting only a few days before Christmas felt like a minor personal calamity. The time out of being awake for 24 hours coupled with the impending final preparations of hosting Christmas and delivering the magic and merriment for my daughter weighed heavily on me as I made my way home early in the morning of December 23rd. With the overwhelm, another unexpected feeling: an overwhelming sadness in recognition how many people were about to have a very un-Merry Christmas.

I usually try to save my existential thinking – and seasonally appropriate angst – for a short and broody pre-Christmas period in which I allow myself to consider, worry and dwell for a predetermined amount of time after which I work hard to simply have the mantra: LET THAT SHIT GO. In my adult life I have the self-awareness to understand that for many this time of year is not one of merriment, parties and dairy-free eggnog but rather of loss and mourning, of anxiety and rumination, of deep sadness. Sitting in the passenger seat of my Uber ride on the way home from the hospital I am consumed by wave after wave after wave of sadness in recognition for all of those suffering in this holiday season.

Dwelling on difficult topics isn’t helpful, this I understand. I also knew not acknowledging what was coming up would only leave to a ‘shoving down’ of my feelings which I assumed would act like a mental whack-a-mole, the more I pounded down on these emotions the more they would pop back up. I’m tired, I’m sick, I’ve just had a brutal 24 hours, I reason with myself as I rest my cheek against the cool window. But if we’re doing this now, let’s do this now.

For a moment or two I let myself fall down the rabbit hole of all the sadness of all the things of all the people I know – and those I don’t. For those who are sick, for those who were recently sick, for those who believe they are sick. I think of families who are broken in some temporary way, for all those families broken in some irrevocable, unfixable way. Then I consider all the people with serious financial struggles, work worries, school problems. People who are struggling with fertility or with the children they have, for those without partners and those struggling with the partners they have. Those struggling with addictions, and those people who are struggling with their mental health. People without hope, for those who are lonely, for those who are searching.  I let the mental list go on and on and on and on.

For most of the day on December 23rd, I lay on the couch sucking saltines and drinking Gatorade, trying to rehydrate my body after the preceding day and a half of the most violent illness in recent memory. In this brooding comes the recognition of why I struggled to write my Christmas cards, of why I struggled to put together an Instagram post of our family photo. I couldn’t find the words in a single sentence of seasonal greeting to accurately reflect my feelings of the entire season, so I chose not to do anything at all.

On Christmas Eve I took my wobbly stomach and went forward with the plan we had made for the few days through Christmas. Jon and I power cleaned our house and bought the final food items for Christmas day. We finished a gift for our daughter, we stuffed stockings, and we adjusted the decorations and watered the Christmas tree. It wasn’t perfect, but we did our best, and I did my best to say hi to all those feelings without allowing them to overwhelm me at every turn of those few days.

It’s my plan to post the photo of my little family to Instagram, and when I do I can’t write something canned to accompany the photo. I want to be truthful in my feelings and real about the difficulty of the season I know is all too present for so many. To want to write with great truthfulness, that we are so blessed, and also with truth, I know this season can be hard. This year I couldn’t write the seasonal wish in only a few words, so I did it in many.

The last story in my short story advent calendar from Hingston and Olsen, one of my recent more Christmas traditions.
The Instagram post in question, photo by the talented Sarah Pukin