I can remember so many years ago, two little ones (when I say little, they were 13 and 6, too little to wake up on Christmas morning with the fresh memory of their father gone, their grandmother gone and the unknown knowledge that they might ~and they did~ lose their grandfather, my dad) waking up on Christmas morning too soon after the madness. Somehow, we managed to have a tree, decorations, presents, smiles. I still look at the photos from that Christmas morning and think, my god how did we do it?
My husband perished in a fiery car accident just four days before Thanksgiving that year. Stunned doesn’t even come close to how I felt, nor does it explain the anguish all of us felt at watching the children cope with that loss. I guess I exclude myself because my autopilot was switched on and working at full capacity. When you lose your spouse just a few weeks before Christmas, there are so many things to consider. Do you “cancel” Thanksgiving? No, his mom cooked a whole Thanksgiving meal and we got together and coped somehow. Do you cancel Christmas? Of course not. The kids “need” the normalcy ~ whatever the hell normalcy is supposed to be.
Throughout the years since I experienced the triple horror of losing both parents and my husband in too short of a time span, I’ve seen so many articles and books on “how to deal with loss at Christmas” (or insert holiday/birthday/event/anniversary etc). Well, the reason why there are so many articles and books about it is because you can’t answer it. The experience is too raw, too individualized. You can write about how YOU coped with it or how you helped someone else in their time of need, but you can never tell another how to cope or deal with loss.
Despite the tumultuous experience I lived for many years, I can recall, if I really sit back and remember, the gut-wrenching screams that tore from me more than once during that time. I was angry, bitter, devastated, lonely…there are too many emotions and too many moments that can define going through that. No one knows what to say, how to react, what to do. I had so many people still telling me they were sorry to hear about my mom and now my husband AND my father had cancer? I mean, seriously, how do you speak words of comfort for that?
Several years later, I sit back and often reflect on what I’ve been through. Somehow, I’ve managed to love again, to buy a home, see my children educated, risen above the loss. So, I do believe that the heart opens again for many. Society doesn’t still expect all widows to remain alone and chaste as in some cultures and societies.
However, on Christmas, I think it is often very difficult for my children and his family to live with the knowledge that they will never see their son or father again in this life and that he didn’t get to see his children grow up. I will never pull up in front of this house that I now own and have the door opened by my mom and greeting my dad with a hug and a Merry Christmas. The silence of when I am done placing the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve is deafening. Sometimes I close my eyes and remember the smiles on my parent’s faces when they would sit and watch the kids open up the presents and squeal and laugh with excitement.
I think I have more butterflies in my house than kitchen towels (and that says a lot considering how many towels I inherited when I moved into this house). I have always loved them and collected them in some form. However, after all the loss, the butterfly started taking on a new meaning for me. They started to represent the tightly controlled, dark and dismal cocoon of my life prior to all the loss, and my eventual emergence beyond the misery to the life I know now. They are no longer just pretty little things I have around because they are colorful and attractive. They now represent who I am today and all that I’ve lost and how I’ve transcended.
As I get older, I now understand my mom’s reflection on growing older and the loss that accompanies it. Lifelong friends and acquaintances pass on and memories replace them. At first, I stood alone as a young widow. That changed over the past few years with the loss of a dear friend’s husband and the very tragic and recent loss of my brother in law, my sister’s husband. I wish I knew the right things to say to her this year as she endures “The Firsts” as they are called. I just try to say what is true. I’m here if you need me. I always have been. Even though many stayed away after my loss for whatever reasons, I have moved beyond the hurt and bitterness that tried to consume me over the years and look forward to the future with unbridled enthusiasm. I do believe it is “what they would want” if I could ask them all. May your holidays be bright AND loud.