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Effie Calderola: Life is too short for family to forget to say ‘I love you’

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Effie Caldarola
Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column "For the Journey." (CNS photo)

BY EFFIE CALDEROLA

My husband and I raised three kids in Alaska.

It was a great place to live, but it was a long way from our families in the Midwest and on the East Coast. So when Christmas rolled around, we started out attempting the “I’ll be home for Christmas” thing.

The airports were — and still are — at their most frenzied then. Santa had to find us as we spanned the United States. One child inevitably came down with a Christmas illness. We had to juggle Christmas programs, the greater cost of seasonal travel, the potential for blizzards thwarting us in at least one of the airports we had to negotiate.

It didn’t take long to decide that we needed to establish our own Christmas traditions in our own house and save those long journeys to relatives for the summer months.

This was practical and made sense. But emotionally, it was tougher.

My neighborhood grocery must have seen me coming, and at my entrance would inevitably play, at high volume, Bing Crosby singing “I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me.”

It had to be Bing Crosby — a favorite of my mother’s — and on cue, at those words, “you can count on me,” I would puddle up and cry from the produce aisle to the deli to the bakery. I would try to compose myself in case I saw friends, but my coat sleeve would be soaked by the time I made it through the checkout.

Is there such a thing as “Catholic guilt”? Or is a feeling of family nostalgia built into this crazy season? I could not be counted on. Bing knew.

Christmas is a wonderful time, but it’s definitely stressful. We want to carve out time for reflection while the culture pulls us the other direction entirely. Parties, gift exchanges, cookies, checkbook shock, fatigue, to-do lists — it can be overwhelming.

And then there are the memories. My mom is gone now, and I look back and am proud that we made great effort and financial commitment to seeing our families. Friends would be heading to Hawaii or Mexico — favorite Alaskan destinations — while we’d be saving to visit family. We spent our vacation time seeing East Coast sights or sitting with Mom at her small-town pool while the kids splashed.

But sometimes at Christmas I hear those words, “you can count on me,” and I get a little pang. It is, after all, Christmas. And I wish I had one more with Mom.

Occasionally, I’ll hear from a friend or relative that they are “estranged” from a family member. I hate to be too inquisitive so I don’t ask why. But we all know families where somebody’s angry at somebody. Or maybe someone’s just drifted away.

If you are one of those families — if there is a sibling, a cousin, a parent, a child, a former best friend — with whom you no longer communicate, make an effort this year, if it seems prudent or possible. Take some of that promised quiet time, be completely silent before God and let him love you for a while with no other thoughts rattling around in your head.

Then, ask God if maybe it’s time to reach out. The older you get, the more you know that life is incredibly short, our time on this earth so limited. Maybe just a card, maybe a quick call. Just the basics, an “I love you” with no strings and no conditions and no accusations or expectations.

Just a very short, “You can count on me.”

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