By Terry Erickson
Reflecting on past Christmas celebrations, I have always been torn between feeling happy and feeling sad. Here’s why.
As a young child of 10, a few days before Christmas, our father died of cancer while suffering in our home. As a result, memories of Christmas often bring back a sense of grief, grief that has no timeline. This grief flickers through both my mind and my body, unexpectedly and unsolicited.
I vividly remember how we all struggled with shock, grief, and grief. Mom was overwhelmed with a deep sense of loss, knowing that life was about to change drastically. Dad was the sole breadwinner, so the realization of raising four children on a very limited income was frightening.
Looking back on that difficult time, valuable lessons emerged that have guided me throughout my life.
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The first lesson came from experiencing an extended family support system of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who surrounded us with their collective arms during these difficult times. The French Creek family farm provided us with dairy products, food and a frequent delivery of wood to ensure we had a warm home during the cold winter months. A new supply of used clothes came from a large group of cousins who were more than willing to help out the four Erickson children.
This family support allowed Mom to stay home and raise her children without having to find a job outside. We were blessed with the lesson of unconditional family support, which I always carried with me throughout my life. It is a reminder that many things will change in your life, but we begin and end life with family.
The second lesson was in the power of my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Kate. While acknowledging my grief and loneliness, she went out of her way to provide both love and support. Sadness hampered my studies as I struggled to keep up with my studies. Ms. Kate spent countless hours before and after school helping me improve my grades. Her ability to connect, empower and inspire me through the darkest days of my life had a huge impact. She raised my confidence and self-esteem to an unimaginable level.
The power of teachers who go the extra mile for their students can never be underestimated. I have tried to follow this model with the students and athletes I have had the privilege of working with during my career. I remember a teacher who said, “I want my students to enjoy their lives with maximum happiness and minimum pain.
Lesson #3 came shortly after Dad passed away when a shiny new red bike was delivered to our house as a Christmas present from my grandparents. It included a wire basket attached to the front handlebars. The hidden message of the wait was to secure an afternoon newspaper route to help meet the needs of the family. So, very young, I was introduced to the world of work. This continued through my high school and college years as I worked various part-time jobs to help with both living expenses and paying for my education.
Appreciating the value of hard work reinforces the fact that no one gives you anything in life, there is no such thing as luck, only effort and worn shoe leather. Unfortunately, society has created a false dream on social media and in other ways that we can be rich or famous in an instant. Many have lost the value of responsibility, determination and work ethic. Make no mistake because hard work equals dignity, trying to do things better every day. This is one of the virtues that we can pass on to our children.
Lesson 4 is attributed to the model of perseverance and pride shown by our Mom. She was determined to provide a good life for her children, even if she lacked the benefits of other members of the community. We never felt disadvantaged. We were given unconditional love and support and nurtured with rock-solid spiritual depth. When criticized and labeled, Mom taught us to rise above those who degrade the family. A sense of family pride prevailed. We held our heads high, encouraged to pursue our dreams with determination and passion. We were taught never to let the odds stop you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do. I have never forgotten this precious piece of wisdom.
I suspect we all have vacation stories and lessons to share with others. This can revolve around special gifts or family experiences. Whatever the memory, deep reflection can reveal powerful and meaningful lessons that can be stored in your mind and in your heart. I encourage you to share them with your family and friends this holiday season.
IN PHOTOS: Rotary Lights 2022