Christmas, Grief and Loss, Uncategorized

The Thing About Grief and The Holidays

The thing about grief is that it is unpredictable. It sneaks up on you out of nowhere. It makes no sense, but then it does. It can turn one memory into hours worth of memories, which then turns into tears and pain. You think you’ve got it down. You think you understand how you feel about something, and then everything changes. And then nothing makes sense again.

This time of year has been hard for me since I lost my dad in 1992. A memory from the past settles in and the smile it brought is washed away by the longing for what will never be again. It can be triggered by something that doesn’t relate at all to the actual event, but has enough to bring a piece back. It can be the glimmer of a red Christmas light in the dark twinkling on a tree and I am six years old kneeling on my grandmother’s living room floor opening gifts with my dad. That is a memory that comes yearly, like clockwork. I spent the least amount of time with my dad and his mom at Christmas, and then only a handful of years, yet this moment in time is etched into my mind.

I long for the magic from that night. For just the three of us to sit around a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and open gifts together. To have my dad’s undivided attention. To feel special and loved. To feel like I was the most important person in his life. To see the joy on my grandmother’s face as she watched her son watch his daughter. I don’t remember any of the gifts I received, but I remember the moments we spent together. I remember the magical feelings that filled me as I watched my dad open the gifts I carefully made for him, and wrapped with scraps of paper. I remember the love. I remember the safety that came, when it rarely was present.

I think about how different life would have been if he had lived for more than ten years of my life. I wonder if he would have been a gentler grandfather, or what he would have done if he had found out about the people that hurt me. I wonder if he would have found his true love, or at least happiness. The small moments leave the most impact.

Thoughts about loss always stir up other losses. When I think about my dad’s death, I think about his mom. I think about my grandfather, and then my uncle, and my gram, and then my mom. I think about how many people I no longer have in my life. I think about the traditions we used to have, and the predictably that came from them. In a life filled with chaos, predictability is an unfamiliar, and much needed break.

As I tried to recall some of the good memories, few came. The harder I try to conjure them up, the deeper I fall into the memories that I have tried to put to rest. Memories so hideous, they make me not even want to remember. The joy quickly washed away by shame from an incident that happened more than thirty years ago. And then, I question everything. Every smile and every laugh. Every fleeting moment of safety. Was it all a lie?

Of course it was.

Of course it was never as it seemed. And that realization gets me every time. I reach for the giant pencil, the pink eraser intact and try my hardest to undo what was done. As I walk through the pink rubber shavings, I spin the pencil around to try to rewrite the story. I try to hang on to the sparks of joy that were not tainted by abuse, by molestation, by hate, by anger, by fear. I try to hang on to any little glimmer of happiness I can find in the darkness the memories have created.

And then it crashes down around me. It was that bad. It was. I can make my heart believe it wasn’t, or that I was making it up, or overrating, but my brain tells me I am wrong. Logic says I am lucky I survived. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to not fallen into the hands of addiction. Lucky to be able to force a smile when there was no reason to.

And that, that is why the Holidays will never be like they are on TV. That is why as hard as I try my joy this time of year will always be a little false. That is why I may disappear when everyone else comes together. Because the joy I try to hold onto is covered in thorns from the past. As many gloves I can protect myself with, there will always be one thorn that will reach my core.

I will not stop picking the roses, because even through the pain, and even through the darkness, there is enough light to keep me on my journey onward.

If you notice someone is a little quieter than usual, or choose to keep to themselves, know that there could be generations of painful memories swarming their thoughts. Something as simple as a candy cane can bring someone pain. Be gentle with them. Be gentle with yourself.

We cannot heal what we do not allow ourselves to feel.

Christmas, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, Uncategorized

Christmas Memories Between Mother and Daughter

In 2011, five years before my mom died, she wrote on my Facebook wall her Christmas memories. I don’t remember what inspired her to do this, but I am grateful to have this. It helps me remember the good times, and gives me insight into what was in her heart. We have a lot of similar memories…but that is what makes us family.

This is a memory of tradition of my childhood Christmas, around age ten. I am leaving out the bad stuff, it isn’t welcome here. After Thanksgiving and my birthday the local stores would deck out their windows, the lighted trees would bedeck the light poles and the crown of lights all of blue. 
Our front porch had a five foot electric candle on both sides of the door. The door was decked out with a huge wreath. 
Out front atop the snow was a lighted Santa riding in his sleigh with his reindeer. The side porch….which everyone used had a medium sized wreath and a tree decked out with lights, honking big lights, no mini lights because they were not sold yet.
In the parlor of the house was a sixteen-foot tree somebody had set up, and my Dad put the lights on it. As a family we decorated the tree with mostly hand-blown ornaments, many given to the family by friends. The lights were three inches across, and covered with colored plastic granules.
Tinsel was applied and I got the job of watering the tree.
Mom and Dad didn’t mind if we got up about an hour before them to open our stockings and this Christmas (I was about ten years old) I went in to my brother’s room and jumped on his bed to wake him up. He wasn’t keen to wake up, so I jumped and bounced, and made a nuisance of myself until he woke up.
I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but I do remember going back to my own bedroom and getting back into bed until 9am until somebody came to get me out of bed.
Our stockings were red felt with white trim and hung up on the fireplace (the fire wasn’t lit or Santa would have been scorched!). I could always count on a navel orange from my grandmother, and a book with “Lifesavers” candy in! The rest of the presents varied, but of course, there were never enough. I was also allowed to pick out one present to open before our grandparents and Aunt Marge arrived for Christmas Dinner and to open the rest of our presents.
Before the relatives got here we always had a good breakfast and got dressed. When Grampy, Granny and Aunt Marge came I got hugged and kissed way too much! They brought their presents into the parlor and placed them around the tree then Grampy would go off with my father and the women would try to help my Mom (which made her crazy) and Gram always made the gravy. She was always the last to sit down to dinner (and the last one to get up from the table). She liked to talk and Grampy would yell “Shut UP Avis!” but she never seemed to hear him.
We opened presents, except for my grandfather who said he wanted to keep his for later. Go figure!
After opening the presents we sat down to the table in the dining room and we always had cranberry juice with lemon sherbet to drink after Grace.
Then my father would cut the turkey and people would pass their plates to him and he would put the meat on, then the rest of the food would be passed around. No-one got up until everyone was more-or-less done, then Gram and Aunt Marge and my mother would take care of the left overs, clean the kitchen and do the dishes (mostly loading up the dishwasher).
Dad and Grampy kind of hung out and then as the sun began to set my grandparents and Aunt Marge would set off back to my grandparents house and we would pick up the parlor. By now we had a fire, so we threw the paper in the fireplace, gathered up our presents and took them happily to our rooms.”

A few days later, I responded with my memories of Christmas with her.

My Christmas memories are almost like the ones you posted. I remember going to bed and listening as you did your last minute things while I peered out the window hoping that I would hear or see Santa. I would run back to bed when I heard you on your way to bed and stayed there until I couldn’t stand it any longer. I don’t remember seeping….but when I knew that it was close to morning I would wake Peter up and beg him to look down stairs with me…he usually would give in after a while but we got sent back to bed until a normal time. When it was late enough to wake up (6am rings a bell), we would all go downstairs and open our stockings. I don’t remember breakfast, but I remember that you let us each open one gift before we went to Bill’s family’s and had Christmas there. Then we would go home and wait for Gram to come and open presents with her and have our dinner with her. I have lots of different memories from all of the places we lived, but these are the main ones. I remember the orange and thinking “what that heck is this,” and I also remember the Lifesaver books.
I remember the Christmas in Waterford where it was thundering and lightening and being scared for Santa that he might not be safe out delivering his gifts. As a kid it was awful waiting for Gram to come, but I am glad that we did because it was more than worth it to share it with her. Thank you for all that you did for us over the years and giving us things that were special and for giving us memories to keep. I do not remember any of the gifts (except for a few…TV with no remote!, Pamela doll, and the Bulls jacket) but that shows me that the gifts are not what the kids will remember, it is the time that we share together as a family.”

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmasperhapsmeans a little bit more.”

~Dr. Seuss

Hold your memories close, some day, they will be the only thing you have left.

Take time to love yourself in the days to come. Be easy on yourself. There is no such thing as perfect. Let go of that desire, and just be.

Be present.

Be free.

Be you.

And remember, you are amazing.