It’s the second holiday season without my dad. Last year, we ‘ignored’ Christmas by escaping to Key West. It was a good thing to do at the time. This year, it was time to face the holidays. My husband is a true gem, but even he wanted to celebrate, neither escape nor evade.
Thanksgiving will always mark the beginning of the holiday season, but it also marks the beginning of my spiritual journey, my dad’s journey toward his death. This was the day he realized he could no longer live the way he wanted, and his ruse of “being fine” was officially over. He could not lift the turkey from the bathtub (where it was defrosting in water, easier to access than the sink) to the roasting pan. And then could not lower the roasting pan to the oven. I say he “couldn’t,” but he did. He called his sister and they brainstormed how he could do it with one arm. The other arm, the shoulder had a grapefruit-sized tumor on it, and was unable to bear any weight. My sister and family came the next day, none the wiser, and they had a “really nice” Thanksgiving, my dad said. I’m sure it was.
There was no more pretending he was fine, as he asked us to do for the past two years—as he himself did to keep going, to keep positive. The tone of my Sunday morning conversations with Dad changed. As always, I let him lead. Deeper things. His anger showed; he was not ready to leave, he did not want to leave.
That was in 2009.
This year, 2011, I agreed to mark the holidays with Karl because he asked. I love him enough to let that kind of pain sting me. And this pain is part of my grief, still tender. And I must keep walking toward it, to come out whole at the end.
I made a traditional meal, set a nice table, and I lit a candle to invite my dad to be with us. It was a very lonely, somber Thanksgiving. And even still I noted the many things for which I was grateful.
Before I knew it, it was the last week of classes. Christmas began to shake its fist at me. Karl asked if we could have decorations. It was fine with me—little did I know he expected ME to do it! Shithead. With each little tree I bought and decorated I became less engaged. But I kept buying all different types of Christmas trees: ceramic, glass, beaded, tiny fake-looking, medium fake-looking, even a clear one whose internal lights reminded me of the aurora borealis. Each is decorated differently in themes, harkening back to my mom’s beautiful themed trees. And there is a tree honoring my mother, father, and Karl’s father, all of who have died. It’s not the most beautiful tree, but it is decorated with symbols: three angels, three birds, three snowflakes, and teardrop ornaments. That’s it. It makes sense to me that it's the most sparsely decorated, yet the most important. Every day I walk by that tree, all 14” of it, and smile.
It was suddenly final exam week, and while I was busy, I needed to be as busy as possible, so I did all of my Christmas shopping in two days. Packed it and mailed it in another two. It was like I couldn’t get it done quickly enough, to get it out of my house fast enough. In the stores, I lingered and wandered to find the cool gifts, which was the closest I felt to having fun, but there was a desperation to it that dimmed any happiness I felt.
I had done a pretty good job of looking like I was in the Christmas spirit; a decorated house, Christmas shopping done and mailed. Christmas cards done and mailed. But I felt blank inside.
Christmas Eve was busy, too. The Feast of the Seven Fishes, a great Italian Christmas Eve tradition. I felt like a robot even while wearing silly reindeer antlers on my head. Planned, cooked and served each course—just Karl and I—and the candle I lit at the table. I felt dead inside. Same is true on Christmas day. Made my calls to Ro- Ro and my sister. Ro and I talked about food, and both agreed to feeling “okay.” That was as far as either of us would go, simply because it was too painful to go any further, and would dig the hole deeper. Called my sister, left a message, and haven’t heard back.
Unlike many other times, when the pain of my dad’s passing has been so deep I could barely breathe, this time, and now, I feel nothing. Not really sure what this is. Maybe this is the way it will be at Christmastime. I feel completely disconnected from the spirit of it all. Perhaps it’s not time yet for me to feel. Too much, still, to process. Maybe my soul is protecting my heart, or vice-versa.
The new year is approaching, and this brings me closer to the epicenter of pain; the anniversaries of both parents’ passing. January 4 and January 13. New Year’s Eve has been difficult since my mother was in the hospital. My dad had called us—we were at a friends’ house—and told us she was back in the hospital. Happy Fucking New Year. And then, just a blink of time later, I was sitting in my dad’s hospital room, staring out at the full moon, trying to take in the impending, deafening, shattering new year. A time that I am broken.
Today, there is anger welling up in me. I used to love the holidays, and now I don’t. This is the first time, writing this, that anger has consciously raised its flag since my parents’ deaths. I’m angry that my parents were both so ill and then died right around the holidays. It will be something I wrestle for the rest of my life. My husband will have to live with my ambivalence. I am bitter that I cannot feel joy during a time that embodies it.
As with all things, this too shall pass. The anger that has recently surfaced will work its way up and out, I will birth it as I have the others, and see myself turned inside out once again.
I am curious about 2012 and the newest part of my journey. It is a year of karmic gifts, of shifting energies, and the year itself will be the result of internal searching, working, and renewing. Another year of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and celebrations. My wish is that I feel them all, that my heart is open and willing.
Here’s to a new year. xoxo