Within the widowed community, in the private widowed groups online mostly, Ive been hearing a lot of talk this week about holiday cards. Widowed people being upset or angered by or feeling very real pain – having to look at a Christmas card sent to them, with a picture of a happy and complete family, where nobody is dead, smiling and glittery with joy standing by their perfectly decorated Christmas tree. I remember year one and year two after Don’s death, receiving these cards from friends and family, and feeling such a HURT inside my gut, looking at them. Their joy, their partnership, their kids. All the things that were stolen from me, and now I had to put it on my wall and stare it in the eye everyday? No. I just couldn’t. That wasn’t happening.
Anyway, the whole Christmas card thing got me thinking, and laughing, about a hilarious holiday ongoing memory I have of me and my dead husband. Every Christmas, most of us receive the regular holiday cards from families. But then, there are the “other” families, the ones that send out a memo-like newsletter to everyone, informing the world of their families many accomplishments and things they have done in that calendar year. The letters are usually very impersonal sounding, starting off with a generic greeting such as:
“Dear All, Oh how the year has flown by! The snow falls upon our patio, as we reflect on all the things we have to be grateful for this year. Little Jimmy is now in 4th grade, and got an A on his math test last week. Our Emily is turning into a bright young star as she had her first ballet solo in the spring dance recital. And Betty’s ginger cookies are always a hit this time of year, although they sure do mess up our kitchen, hahaha!!! “
The letters would go on and on like that, breaking down the families list of all the reasons why they are so awesome. Not every family that sends out these letter type cards is annoying, let me make that clear, before I get hate mail. But the majority of them are, and those are the ones Im referring to. Don and I used to look forward to getting these holiday newsletters, so that we could mock them properly. He would excitedly take it out of the envelope and clear his throat to start reading it out loud to me. He would sit in his recliner chair and exclaim pompously: “Wife! Get me my pipe and my robe so I can read this letter of holiday cheer!” He would read the letters in the funniest voice, perfectly capturing the cartoon-ish and obnoxious tone of the words. Whenever the letter said: “hahaha!”, he would “fake laugh” uproariously, like it was the funniest thing in the world. Then he would dramatically exclaim in a loud voice: “Ah yes! The guffaws!!! But I digress …. ” The first couple of years that he and I lived together, reading those holiday letters became a silly tradition that we both looked forward to.
About a year or so into our marriage, we had sort of become “known” for our funny holiday cards that we would send out. During our second or third year of marriage, while reading out loud yet another newsletter type card, Don came up with a genius idea. He started laughing to himself and said: “These letters are always so perfect – like their lives are so perfect and everything they are doing is wonderful and amazing, and they tell us all these boring details about their kids lives. We should send out one of these from us, but where it’s clearly mocking the whole thing, and where we go into detail about what our cats are doing, and about our shitty income and our shitty lives.” I thought this idea was genius, and 5 minutes later, we were at the computer, creating together, our newsletter masterpiece. It’s one of those things that I wish like hell I could find right now, all these years later, but I can’t. Reading that again would make me laugh so hard, remembering his humor and his wording and his nuances. Being able to read and hear, in my head, his cadence and the way he phrased things. I so very much miss that.
I do remember basically the way we began the letter, and a few things we definitely put in there. We started it with something like: “Dear All, as the yellowish brown snow mixes with the New Jersey pollution and the general aura of failure and broken dreams, we sit in our out-of-date bedroom with a leaking ceiling, and reflect on the past calendar year. We are both still working important jobs that underpay, and the current $14 in our checking account will most likely drop to below zero balance soon. Ah, life! The cats are doing well. Autumn ate her dinner earlier than usual the other day, and then seemed to have a rather liquidy bowel movement in the litter box. ” Our sarcastic letter went on and on like that, getting more and more ridiculous. We laughed so hard creating it, and then sent it out to all our family and friends.
I remember the varied reactions. Some people “got it” right away, like my best childhood friend Sarah, who called me up screeching into the phone: “Oh my god! I cannot stop laughing! Funniest card ever! I hate those stupid newsletters!” Others, like multiple relatives in my family as well as people who just don’t “get” humor, didn’t understand what they were receiving. A few concerned relatives called up my parents and genuinely said: “We got Don and Kelley’s letter. We don’t understand. Were they being serious?” One family friend remarked that it was “concerning” that we went into such detail about what our cats were doing. Don just kept shaking his head, proud of our finished product. “The fact that people actually took that seriously is the funniest thing ever. Our work here is done.”
Sometimes, in the first few years of widowhood, when I would receive those Christmas cards with the perfect smiling families sitting under their glorious tree, my immediate instinct, as a reaction, would be to dream up MY reality in a “Merry Widowed Christmas” style newsletter. It might read something like this:
As the snow piles up on top of my dead husband’s piece of shit car, which now I have to find street parking for because I can no longer afford the monthly indoor garage parking fee without his income, I begin to reflect on the mounds of ice I will have to go scrape off the car, and somehow shovel myself out of the tight space it sits in, because I no longer have a husband who would happily do those sort of things for me. Ah, how the year has crawled by, at the pace of a turtle who has just been widowed. I went back to teaching in the fall, to choruses of students in the hall whispering near me: “Thats her. Shes the one who’s husband dropped dead in July.” As I head off to job #2 to make sure I have enough money to live, I get hit by a grief trigger when I pass by the hospital where I was taken to the small tiny room to stare at him lying there, dead. After pulling over and arriving late to work, only to run to the bathroom 3x durinng classes to have an emotional breakdown, I arrive home later that day to the autopsy report sitting in my mailbox. Reading about my husband’s body parts in such gory detail doesnt really go with my morning coffee, so I decide to put it on hold for one more day. Now, to go through the pile of dead husband bills that I have to deal with, accounts to change, and piles of his stuff that make the walls close in on me every day and every minute.
May you enjoy your special holiday together – until one of you randomly dies. /Fa la la la la, la la la … you’re dead. /On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …. nothing, cuz he died. /And have yourself a merry widowed christmas, now ….
With Christmas Cheer,
The Widow ”
If only I could have sent something like that out to the public. Sure, nobody would get the joke, and theyd probably lock me away and have me institutionalized. But my dead husband would be so damn proud.
Merry Christmas, Boo Bear. It’s a shame you still have to be dead.