It’s official. The holiday season is upon us. A time of year that offers several opportunities to gather together with family and friends for food, fun, conversation, connection and the exchanging of gifts. For many, this is what puts the HAPPY in HOLIDAYS. However, for some, there is little cause for celebration. Life might be challenging them with illness, unemployment, financial burdens, or estrangement from family. I consider myself among those who find little reason to embrace the season.
As far back as September, I developed an awareness that the holidays were creeping forward on the calendar. I began thinking about the traditions that began many years ago. I married into a Jewish family in the 1990’s. My husband celebrated Hanukkah by hauling out his brass Menorah, lighting the candles and reciting the applicable prayers from memory. He did this in honor of this festival of lights. He never bought into the consumerism that has (also) infiltrated his religion, choosing to concentrate only on the spiritual meaning of this holiday. After he passed, I continued to commemorate Hanukkah in his way with our young son, which for me included gifting him for eight nights. I also began acquiring the trimmings associated with Christmas, and thus began new traditions for the boy and his mom. This included a photo shoot for the holiday card, decorating a tree, the decking of the halls, the sweet smells of baking, Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra belting out classics such as Jingle Bells and Silent Night on the CD player, adopting a family in need, and the purchasing and wrapping of gifts. My brother-in-law referred to this meshing of religious traditions as “double dipping.” I guess the boy did get the best of two (religious) worlds? As he entered his teenage years, I began to do less and less in regards to Hanukkah and focused more on just the one holiday.
After much consideration and deliberation, I have decided that I will do very little in the way of participating in this holiday season. The Hanukkah mementos have been passed on to family members. The Christmas ornaments, decorations, and tree shall remain tucked away within their containers, safely stowed in the basement to gather another layer of dust. The stockings will not be hung by the chimney with care. There will be no mailing of the annual photo card and letter updating family and friends on the events of the past twelve months. There is little to share that is positive in regards to the year two thousand and eighteen. We have lost not one, but two treasured members of our unit-my 20-year old son and my husband’s mother, the strong and feisty matriarch of a large, loud, and loving family.
Annually on Christmas Eve, my husband’s family gathers together to enjoy food, drink, laughter and games. During the evening, Santa arrives, bearing gifts for each youngish child. (Mr. Claus is usually lovingly portrayed by a male family member volunteer who steps up to don the suit and beard and chant the obligatory Ho, Ho, Ho.) Last year, we stuck a hat on Grandma and morphed her into “Santa.” As the kids came forward one by one to receive their present, they posed for a photograph. And later, more photos were taken of Santa and all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My immediate family (husband, son, bonus child and I) made a memory with Santa that was forever captured by the click of a camera. The five of us are seated cozily on the couch smiling for the photographer. A happy and festive image frozen in time.
Today, as I reflect on that photo, the oldest and youngest souls posing for that moment are gone. We had allowed ourselves to consider that perhaps it just might be the last Christmas for the 88-year old matriarch, which is why we selected her as Santa and made her the center of attention for the evening’s festivities. No one could have imagined that Mark, the college sophomore, would be experiencing his 20th and final Christmas. For me, the sad reality of the season is front and center. Mark and Renie’s seats will remain empty at holiday gatherings. There will be no gifts bearing their names. Their sweet faces will be absent from cell phone snapshots.
When dealing with grief, there is often much said about “the year of firsts.” This term generally refers to all of the occasions that arrive within a calendar year that can no longer be shared or celebrated with a loved one who has passed on. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I understand the thought behind “the year of firsts” and how those certain days or dates might accentuate or magnify one’s loss. And. They. Do. However, when you truly think about it, our loved ones who have passed are gone everyday, not just the ones we note as special or celebratory. With that said, I did survive Mother’s Day, family birthdays, two graduations and a cousin’s wedding. Thanksgiving will arrive in a matter of days, followed by Hanukkah and Christmas. Soon, I will find myself smothered by the sights, smells and sounds of the season, the most wonderful time of the year. And I will choose to mostly abstain from the decorating, parties, shopping and the general “hustle and bustle” that consumes the month of December. Instead, I will hold close my memories, traditions and photos of holidays gone by.
I just don’t have words. You cross my mind more often than is probably appropriate. Is there such a thing? Please know that you are loved. There is not a single thing I can do or say except “I won’t forget.”
Thanks, Nan. I along with any parent who has lost a child will tell you that is immensely important that our children are not forgotten. I appreciate that you “check in.”
Joan, With each post you open yourself. To steal a line, like an onion, pealing back a layer at a time.
I recall the year of firsts you describe. Similar to you, have had it twice, my father and mother. But, thinking about it now, really many more than two. But, the one thread between all of them is the emptiness. The chair that remains empty is the outward presents of the reality. However, the emptiness inside is much deeper. At times, it consumes your thought and can paralyze.
For me, the “real first” when I fully felt the emptiness was Christmas morning the year my dad died. There was a cold calm in the air. And certainly, no joy in me or the house. Tried to break the staleness by playing the “ungiven” gift I purchased for my dad, Gary Burbank comedy tapes. We both enjoyed him. Yet, that failed to change me or the emptiness I felt. I just sat on the couch staring at the wall of family pictures. Dead silence was what I felt even while the tape was playing.
Even to this day, I remember that morning. However, it no longer is empty. Yup, feel sad for a moment; but, then joy returns when I start to think about my dad and him not having to deal with all the pain (that he never complained about) he felt. I know his eyes are perfect now and he sees again. Actually, better than me now. The joy returns because of the promise we have in what we celebrate during Hanukkah and Christmas. The Light of the world has entered into our darkness to show us the way. I believe this with all my being. And, that belief in The Light rips apart, no destroys, the emptiness and replaces with joy and peace that is beyond human understanding. Certainly beyond mine.
I still miss my dad and miss all the events he never took part. But, then I recall, he sees better than me now and he hasn’t missed a thing. Because he is bathed in The Light.
I send you a hug that would gladly give in person. You touched me more than you know. I hope and pray that you will find joy and peace again.
I wish you a Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas Joan.
Hello Brian. Thanks so much for reading my post. I appreciate it. I enjoyed reading your own account of your first holiday without your Dad. You express yourself beautifully. I agree that those who have crossed over live in The Light, and are free of pain and suffering. Their home is one of extreme beauty and peace. And, they watch over us.
I am sending you a virtual hug. I wish you and your family joy and peace this holiday season.
Thank you for sharing your raw emotions with us. You inspire me by the way you are so real 😘
Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment. I hope all is well with you and your family. Have a good Thanksgiving. Let’s make sure we catch up again soon. I want to hear about your counseling.