I’m Working on Accepting the Risks of Imbalance

Colleen Steele avatar

by Colleen Steele |

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When I look at my Christmas tree, I appreciate its Christian symbolism as much as I do its beauty. There are many meanings passed down throughout history, but I have my favorites. The triangular shape represents the Holy Trinity and the upward-pointing branches are symbolic of my praise to God. The lights are glowing reminders of how Jesus came into the world as our light. The star atop my tree represents the star the wise men followed to Bethlehem. And the bare tree brought back to life with lights and ornaments becomes symbolic of the resurrection. Jesus died on a tree and was raised to a new life.

Colleen’s family Christmas tree. (Photo by Colleen Steele)

But in 2020, for my family and possibly yours, too, the Christmas tree offered a great deal of personal meaning. Immediately it brightened up a dark year and inspired hope for the next. More enjoyable than the gifts beneath the tree are the ornaments on it, little memorials of Christmases past.

According to my faith tradition, it is appropriate to leave the tree up until at least the Epiphany on Jan. 6 or the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 10. However, I’ve been reading on social media that many have chosen to leave their tree up even longer. Its emotion-healing powers and bright lights are helping to guide us into the new year, out from the pandemic’s shadow.

While gazing upon my Christmas tree I prayed and meditated on what my New Year’s resolution should be. I decided to focus not on change, but acceptance. Some people display Christmas trees worthy of Martha Stuart’s approval. I admire the perfection but love the disorganization of mine. My tree is packed with ornaments of many shapes, sizes, and themes collected over five decades.

When my children were little, I discovered the joy of allowing them to place the ornaments on whatever branches they want. We extended this tradition into their adulthood. The lack of balance in my Christmas tree has reminded me that just like in all the years past, 2021 will be imperfect but can still be enjoyed.

As much as my son’s pulmonary hypertension (PH), heart and double-lung transplant, and kidney disease have disrupted family life, our Christmas tree displays an abundance of happy memories we made around medically challenging moments. They might not have happened in the order or way we wanted, but they happened.

I also find symbolism in the ornaments I still lovingly place on the tree every Christmas despite being chipped, slightly broken, even chewed on by a pet years ago. Somehow the damage makes the memories that much more precious.

I want to live life this year the way I live memories in my mind. I wish to accept the cracks and breaks that will inevitably occur. As I try to glue pieces back together, I will try to look closer at the entire situation and find something to appreciate. Even through poor health, financial stress, and a pandemic, life offers ornaments of peace and happiness, but I won’t find it if I’m not looking.

A change this year left our tree’s bottom branches empty: We protected our most precious ornaments by placing them out of reach of our puppy. This wasn’t visually appealing but it was necessary, and metaphorically speaking, I have and will always live life this way.

I place my family and friends on the highest branches of my thoughts where I can see and protect them. I handle them with great care and do my best to keep them safe, well, and happy. My son’s health challenges over the years have made me hypersensitive to just how fragile life is. What I need to work on this year is learning to accept that no matter how hard I try, sometimes I can’t keep everyone I care about from falling. The best I can do as a caregiver, mother, wife, daughter, and friend is gently pick them back up, help them heal as best I can from whatever is broken, and let my love be what is good in those moments.

In the Christmas song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon sings: “So this is Christmas/ And what have you done/ Another year over/ A new one just begun …”

Last year I did a lot of worrying about loved ones and stressed over life not being picture-perfect. As well-intended as my resolutions were, not all were obtainable. I’m going into the new year accepting that life won’t always play out as I would like, but that no matter what, it is still precious and worth enjoying.


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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