I did it. I survived, and sometimes even thrived, Christmas day.
It is now Christmas night, and I sit here in my parents dining room on my laptop writing this blog.
I am staying with them for 10 days over the holiday, in Massachusetts, away from my usual NYC apartment and life.
I love being here. I love my family. However …
and there is ALWAYS a “however” with grief ….
sometimes it hurts being around my family. It hurts a lot.
It hurt my heart this morning when I woke up to Christmas, and for the first time in the 3 and a half years since my husband died, I participated in our annual family Christmas morning tradition of scratch-off tickets, fried dough, hot chocolates, and opening stocking gifts at the breakfst table. It hurt because the only people around the table were me, my mom, and my dad. My brother and his family were at their own house, and we would see them later in the day. Some of the family that used to spend this time with us, are either distant, unavailable, or no longer with us. Things change. Life alters. Time sucks. I thought about my Nana, who died 6 years ago, who used to love Christmas just as much as I used to love Christmas. She loved scratching the lottery tickets in the morning, and she couldnt wait to break open each gift. I thought about my husband, and his childlike innocence on Christmas mornings with my family. He never had much of a family himself – dysfunctional and distant. When he met me, he gained a family, and he always loved and deeply appreciated everything that came along with that. So, this morning, my heart was beating out of my chest and I felt anxious and on the verge of crying as I opened the presents from my parents, drank hot chocolate, and tried to stop staring into the void where all the empty chairs at the table were. Time sucks. Holidays magnify the loss and pain of anyone going through something difficult, something awful.
But I did it. I got through it. We went to my brothers house and for the first time in years, I went Christmas shopping for my nieces and nephews again, and I enjoyed doing it. Watching them rip open their gifts and play with them, and seeing their excited faces and watching my niece try on all her new Disney princess outfits – it made me happy and it made my heart cry with pain. I cannot look at them without immediately thinking that it’s been 3 years, and if Don had lived instead of died, where would we be today? Would we also have kids by now? Would our children be around the same ages as my brothers kids? Would they play together? What would my life look like right now? My husband would have his dream of being a dad, and I would get to be a mom, instead of the crazy Auntie Kelley who comes in from NYC now and then and makes them laugh by acting silly. It’s not fair. It will never be fair. It hurts, and it hurts a lot more on the holidays.
Everyone is gathered at the holidays. Large groups of people , relatives, friends, people you maybe only see once a year in some cases – and all the people are talking about and comparing what has gone in for them within the last year of life. So and so is graduating college and this one is having their second baby, and let’s all look at the happy couple in this corner who just an engagement ring and a proposal for Christmas. The older ones have proud stories about their grandkids, the ones who are married are continuing to build their families and jobs and buying houses and taking vacations and such, while the younger ones are just beginning their futures together. Being a widow at Christmas is like being stuck inside of a giant snowglobe, and it won’t stop shaking. Please, somebody – make it stop shaking. Please stop telling me about your lives and accomplishments and additions to your families – the families and the lives and the dreams that I will never get to have. The dreams and the future and the present that was stolen from me, for no reason at all.
If the people you’re stuck inside the snowglobe with don’t ask about your life and what you have been up to, you feel offended and ignored and unacknowledged. If they do ask, most of the time , you feel uncomfortable telling them about your life and what you have been up to, because they just wouldnt get it. They wouldnt understand. How could they? How could they possibly grasp my response of: “Well after 2 years in weekly grief-therapy, I am finally able to go to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree where Don proposed, and not have a panic attack. Im still working on my feelings of guilt of being asleep while my husband was collapsing on a Petsmart floor and dying. Im working on some new death jokes for my Camp Widow presentation, and Im hoping my book about loss and grief is able to help people and also help me too.” Very few people can hear information like this and not feel totally awkward or run away or change the subject. Very few people can understand a world that they have never been part of. They just stare at you, confused, as they continue to live their lives. Meanwhile, they do not comprehend that you are sitting inside of this snowglobe – at the very beginnings of creating your next life. They dont know how exhausting or daunting or frightening or confusing that is for us – to create another life, when we dont want to. When we have no choice. When nobody asked us our opinion on the subject.
So you sit inside the snowglobe of the holidays, until it’s time to escape. And today, and last night, and all of this week leading up to the day – I did it. I made it. I got through it. I smiled and I laughed and it was a real, actual smile and laugh. I felt real joy. There was happiness. But I worked and fought and crawled for that happiness, and the pain sat beside it the whole time too. It never goes away, really. Im just learning how to manage it and manipulate it and sit with it. I know how to remain inside the massive storm, instead of denying it or trying to get out. There is no out. Only through. And I did it. I did it. They never stopped shaking that globe – and I never stopped feeling dizzy – but I’m here, I’m alive, and I did it.