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Merry Christmas?

December 29, 2010
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I’ve been trying to blog but it hasn’t worked.

Everyone says that the first holidays after a loss are hard, so it’s not like I should have been surprised. Thanksgiving was sort of like a crazy blur: it was 2 weeks after my sister’s funeral and the whole family came together.

We were wearing our Thanksgiving outfits and eating our Thanksgiving meals and being in my sister’s house and not having her at the table, which had started to seem normal, too. However, there wasn’t a big draw to the upstairs to visit with her as there had been at prior family gatherings. At one point I had to go into her room to get something for someone and it was a crazy feeling to see it empty. Hi, we’re all here, except, you know, for you.

In addition, I had a Grade A head cold and couldn’t taste any of the food. The overall effect was of numbness.

On to Christmas: I think that some part of me has always felt that Christmas is desperate and sad. I love the trappings in a way but there is always stress there. And in the last few years it’s been actually crazy, between trying to preserve our family traditions PERHAPS FOR THE LAST TIME, every year we felt that way, in addition to scheduling with my husband’s family. Nauseating stress is how I would describe it. And because Christmas is shot through with sentiment, like it or not, good bad and or mixed, having it for what seemed like the last time felt maudlin and over emotional and awful and like dragging something impossibly heavy with thick ropes digging into my palms and shoulders. It felt like nothing I could win or like. But at the same time it felt like we’d better drink it all in, anyhow, because WHAT IF IT WAS THE LAST TIME. I don’t even like normal goodbyes. Here, I’m saying it: Christmas, whose lights and scents and drinks and songs and gifts and weather I love, had become an awful burden.

Last year I got a vomiting disease in the days before Christmas. Then it cycled through Matthew and Henry, and we weren’t able to travel. On Christmas Day we stayed in Brooklyn and opened some presents and I bought a little round watermelon at a deli and the three of us ate crackers and Lipton’s chicken soup it was a giant relief to have somehow escaped doing the traditional sad and passive goodbye without having shirked it, which I would never have done anyhow, because I love Christmas with my sister. But I had found a loophole. The loophole involved vomiting, but it got me through.

A few days before we left for Christmas this year,  I found myself crying so hard in the car while running errands that I almost had to lay down. The numbness had finally abated and been replaced first with feelings of guilt, then with feelings of loss. What do I have to thank for avalanche of feeling? Top 40 radio. This may seem like it was a difficult drive, but for me it seemed useful and almost wonderful, and like I was actually managing to experience and process some of the grief. Because I am finding that the grief is like a constant companion whose needs often go unacknowledged. You know, sort of like a spouse after a baby.

As it happens, having some quality alone time with my grief is as important as having some quality alone time with my spouse.

My therapist has always insisted that crying is really important.

So is wine! I will inform her when we talk tonight.

We traveled to Chicago on Christmas Day, and did not celebrate at all on the 25th. But for Christmas Eve, we were in Connecticut. It was very hard and very sad. In the afternoon before we celebrated, I went to Beth’s grave alone: a rectangle of hard packed earth with no grass or markings, yet. Very un-Beth.

She loved nothing more than pomp and froofiness, so I went and got a big wreath for her grave at one of her favorite stores, across the street, brought it back. We talked, and I cried. Then I cried a lot more, then drove back to be with my family.

A nice moment from Christmas:

While swigging eggnog and opening presents with my parents, Beth’s kids and their dad, and my husband and kid, I say “I want to just take a moment to say ‘I wish Beth were here.”

And her son who is ten and likes to call people by their first names says “I wish Beth were here.” And my mom, now pink-eyed, says “I think she’s watching us.” And her daughter who is five says “Raise your hand if you wish Mom was here.” And we each raise a hand, and Rudy says “We do a lot of hand-raising these days,” presumably because that is one of the organizational principals of Kindergarten, which Amelia has just started. It’s Christmas Eve, and we initiated and passed through a necessary moment of love and respect in just the ping-ponging verbal way we would have if Beth had been there.

So she’s here, and she’s not. Merry Christmas?

It seems almost like a question. I don’t want my tiny son, bewildered and excited by Christmas — shouting “door door door!” because he wants his presents OPEN, and how better to express that — to change. Red-cheeked and wide-eyed and astounded by the good fortune of finding toy trucks wrapped in colorful paper, he is the picture of merry. I guess that life is always aswirl with varying emotions. At least it’s not boring.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Alana permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:28 pm

    Another beautiful and honest post. I’m with you. And I’ll drink wine with you in approx. four months. Merry Christmas to you and your family… and a new year is about to begin. I want to see you and that red-cheeked cherub soon. 🙂

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