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An Unexpectedly Joyful Holiday

She thought she was stuck at her job on Easter, but she was soon reminded she was blessed to be there.

By Paula Dyer, Stillwater, New Jersey

As appeared in

I couldn’t have been in a worse mood. I glared at myself in the full-length mirror in my bedroom. Black suit, sensible shoes, conservative necklace. Blah! I should have been in my Easter best. After all, it was Easter. But I had to work.

“We’ll make a big dinner next weekend when you’re off,” my husband, John, said, poking his head into the bedroom.

I shook my head. “It won’t be the same.” My eyes lingered on the pretty blue dress hanging in the closet. I’d worn it to church that morning and that was that. It hardly seemed worth the expense.

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I’d bought it with the idea that we’d be driving to Virginia for the holiday, spending the week with John’s family. The perfect occasion to catch up with his mother, sisters and brother. Neither John nor I have any family nearby. We’d both looked forward to the trip for months.

But there’d been a last-minute scheduling problem at the long-term addiction-treatment center where I work and I was stuck with the Easter Sunday shift. We’d had to ditch our plans.

I forced a smile and kissed John goodbye. Duty called.

Usually I pray or focus on positive thoughts during my commute. Not today. I thought about our church service that morning.

Sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows. The choir belting out alleluias. Bell-shaped white lilies overflowing the altar, perfuming the air. Families decked out in their new spring outfits packed into the pews. Everyone smiling. The gospel message–so full of joy!

All I’d felt was resentment. Everyone else would be going home to family, a delicious feast, Easter-egg hunts in the backyard. The whole point of holidays was to get away from work and spend time with loved ones. To make memories meant to be cherished. I was going to miss out on all of that.

I drove through the entrance of the treatment center and took a deep breath, pushing my feelings down inside me. Our students, as we call the residents, are very sensitive to emotions. It’s important for the staff to stay even-keeled.

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No matter what I’m going through in my own life, at work I do my best to project an aura of calmness.

Students stay at the rehab for months and never leave the campus. Holidays are especially difficult for them. Relax, I warned myself.

I parked the car and walked to my office. Sandy, a coworker, was at the coffeepot. “You know, we don’t even get overtime for working today,” she said. “It’s not one of our holidays.” Great.

In fact, everyone seemed on edge. Students complained that there weren’t any chocolate Easter bunnies. They argued with one another, and fought over the TV remote. It seemed I was constantly reminding them of the behavior that was expected of them.

Finally it was time for dinner, a meal shared by staff and students. I stared down at the piece of pork on my plate, a pool of scalloped potatoes next to it. Our chef is creative, but I couldn’t help but think about my sister-in-law Liz’s mouth-watering honey-glazed ham, which I could have been eating.

And paper napkins? My other sister-inlaw, Andrea, sets a color-coordinated table right out of House Beautiful. The dessert I was eating, coconut-flavored pie, was definitely not homemade. Not like the lemon ring cookies I bake for Easter every year.

I imagined all of my husband’s family around their table, laughing, leaning back in their chairs and telling stories. I never tired of them. My mother-in-law had at least one funny childhood story about everyone.