COMING BACK FROM CHRISTMAS
I do realize the holidays have been over for weeks and I’m not timely-at all. I have found, in the wake of the holidays, that I have spent a lot of time simply being. Being in a chair without the lights or TV on. Just sitting. Waking up before dawn and being at the big window in the back, looking out into the dark of what will soon be day. Another day. Being on a task and realizing I’ve been standing still for quite some time staring blankly into a time that feels like a different life than mine, but it’s not. Being while my mind slowly deconstructs the reality and events of these past several weeks.
Exhaustion I suppose, from weeks and weeks of taking “it” an hour at a time, trying to figure out how to “minimize the pain” for us. So much energy is expended just to trying to be OK. Fighting the barrage of grief waves that seemed to come so much harder and stronger- and losing, taking my husband down with me because we walk a precarious line, easily throwing each other off balance and over it. Then watching him lose his own battle and trying not to follow him down. The struggles never cease, but we are getting our grief legs under us. So the post holiday collapse included a lot of just being, thinking and unwrapping the days hour by hour in my mind.
I did it again. It was a simple question about a family Christmas grab-bag game. “Did you get a gift so all of you can play?” my brother asked. I was beginning to not do well. The day was wearing on me badly.
“Yes,” I said, “5 gifts, we are all playing.” I wouldn’t have realized what I had said had it not been for the pause on his face, his animation settling down a bit- questioning my response. Then I read his mind, ‘5 gifts?’.
Because there aren’t five of us this year.
My heart, my mind, my body says 5 so I say five. Always.
Like on my birthday, one month to the day of his passing and I asked for a table for 5. “Ooops. No, a table for uh four. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry”. The absurdity of that understatement.
My son did the same thing 5 months after. “Can we have a table for 5 please?” Then a quick head shake, clearing the fog, “I meant 4-a table for four.”
Because we are 5. FIVE.
A family of 5 suffering with phantom pains from our lost limb so vast and so unrelenting this holiday season, the physical pain from the impact of our loss continues to linger on like some monstrous vibration, into this new year. Sudden child loss is a monstrous thing. Deep, unpredictable, nightmarish, overwhelming. Continual and yet final, so terribly final. Reverberating not just through the physical and emotional body and “special days”, but through the mundane. Like dusting photos on the wall, asking for a table at a restaurant or putting away Christmas. Reverberating way past the holidays and into a new year because the minds of bereaved parents review
and create what may have been.
We regret and yearn
I wanted nothing more but to have them over-with, couldn’t wait to have it DONE and yet I cannot stop going back to them. Trying to get through was so hard- the effort of just surviving took so much focus, I fear I wasn’t really present during. So now that it’s over and all the crazy has settled down, I’m going back over it. Reviewing conversations and moments, inserting scenarios of how Aiden may have fit into the days. When he would’ve laughed, what food he would’ve loved, how he would say “Thank you so much!” for that gift he wanted most. What gift would he have wanted most this year I wonder? The thank you hugs and the kisses on the top of his head. I imagined everything with him there- where he should’ve been. I wonder how I did through it? What did I do? What didn’t I do? Did I do enough for the older boys? Was I in tune to what they needed? Was my husband really OK? Did they need me and I missed it because I was grieving so badly? I don’t think so, but I don’t know? Should I have done something more overt to honor Aiden? I sometimes feel lost in the in-between of actual and imagined events. Living in one and wishing another.
I was constantly thinking about what Aiden and I didn’t do and won’t do again. What we all didn’t do and won’t do again. Last year he helped me take the tree down and wrap up all the ornaments, so when I unwrapped them this year, I knew many of them were last touched by his hands. His careful hands, covering them so well. He was so good like that. He took care. How could that possibly have been his last Christmas? His first Christmas with no Santa was his last Christmas?! NOOOOO!! It just can’t be. How can life have been so cruel to us? We didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this cruelty.
I wanted to smell them, to smell him, but all I could smell was musty attic and old tissue. So this year and for every year to come, those ornaments, our beautiful Christmas village he loved to help me with, the “Count-down to Christmas Snowman”, and a thousand other things will go untouched by him. How is that even possible? I want to watch his hands do what they did. I want to take in every movement, every facial expression on that perfect face of his. I want to touch his little boy hands and fingers again. Hold them in mine. Why can’t I? Please let me.
Who but a bereaved parent would even have to consider such things? That is why we go back in our minds re-living the events while inserting our child where he should have been. It takes so much time and energy and there is such a toll we pay, but it’s what we do. I wonder if the world knows why we need patience? Our day is not interrupted with thoughts of our child, thoughts of our child are interrupted by the day, so the day doesn’t always go like it should. We may never catch up. I feel like I will forever be moving through life with one foot lagging behind. My heart needing to go forward, but wanting to stay behind with him.
The constancy and intensity of the longing for my son through the holidays unsteadied my grip on everything that typically keeps me grounded. It left me feeling more like a traitor than anything else. A traitor to our family traditions because we did none, a traitor to Christ for hating this time more than anything else I could’ve imagined. A traitor for being incapable of stepping foot in church. Immerse myself in the music, color, sounds and message of hope? I couldn’t. A traitor for wanting to wish it away and kick it off like a rabid dog. Just Go Christmas. Go.
I needed Christ and I needed Him in a very definitive way. Where was He in all this? Would He even show up on His own birthday?
As I reflect back, quietly and without announcement, without pomp and circumstance nor angels and harps, He did show up. Christ did gently reveal Himself to us this Christmas.
Not taking away the heart-break, but showing up in it.
The boxes of Tree ornaments sat on my living room floor for days. Just when I thought I would feel like trying to decorate, I’d approach the boxes and open one, see the crinkled wrap and immediately get grief sick. So I’d walk away, disappointed and heavy but remembering the words of my friend;
“If you want to decorate your tree, great but if you need us to be there, we will be there with you. We can just sit with you or if you want us to decorate your tree for you, we will do that. If you don’t want to decorate your tree at all, that is fine too. Whatever you feel you want to do Jen, is OK, just let me know. But remember you don’t have to do it alone.”
The gift of grace. The freedom to know whatever choice I made would be OK and I’d have my girls as back-up. That was Christ in my Christmas.
I did eventually find the strength to decorate my tree. I wanted to do it for God and for my family. I wanted to do it because we taught our kids that Christ is why we celebrate. We taught them that we decorate our tree to honor the birth of our savior. I wanted the older boys to come home from college and feel that Christmas, even if I couldn’t. Was I going to put my words into action or let my pain be bigger than my willingness to honor our Savior this Christmas? What was I going to let be bigger?
Christ showed up for me one night. My Mother-in-law there with me, I unrolled what ornaments I could and quickly rolled others back into their tissue for another year. My God, how my heart ached as I did this, but her presence gave me comfort and courage. A Mom, a Grandmother, someone who loved Aiden with all her might, who understood the ache each touch of those ornaments were bringing. Someone who understood the enormity of the absence. So we did it together. Me for Christ and my boys, her for me. For weeks I enjoyed the tree lighting up the morning darkness or the evening quiet. It blessed me. Quietly He blessed me through it.
It struck me Christmas morning that I was sitting within Christmas surrounded by people I love. My boys were smiling and my husband was OK for the moment at least. I was Ok for the moment. We were there. We had made it that far. A milestone moment. That moment was enough- more than I thought would be possible. Christ was there too. I felt Him. When I thought of Aiden and my Mom and others who should’ve been there, I felt Him there with me, in the gratitude of who I was among.
When we got to my brother’s house for the weekend, I bought a candle in a beautiful red jar embellished with gold for Christmas and designated it as Aiden’s candle and I lit it. I lit it to see it’s glow from the time I got up until I blew it out at night. God knows, I certainly don’t need a candle to remember my son by, but I wanted a gentle and special way to remember him and for everyone in that house to remember him. He loved all of them so much. Never ever forget him, the baby of our big clan. He was the light of my life, how fitting to have the soft flickering glow of his candle on the mantle at Christmas. It started my morning and I would say ‘goodnight, I love you Aiden’ as I blew it out at night, just like I always said to Him. I am not a ritualistic person, but this ritual brought a certain peace for those couple of days. The ache a strange comfort that the fear of forgetting or leaving him behind will never be.
I think I can move on from this Christmas now. My heart and mind has enough on it concerning the ‘new year’, our first full year without Aiden. I am understanding that as long as I love Aiden, I will mourn him and long for him. Knowing that the grief does not go away but is settling into my soul, now a part of my very being, I am learning to make space for it. We will love him for this life and beyond, therefore we will grieve him for this life until we hold him again into eternity.
We trudged our way through our first Christmas without him and despite the heartbreak and through the rivers of tears we shed this December, there was strength in our family. We had the prayers and gestures of strangers and loved ones alike.
We found Christ among us and in us. That was enough. It had to be enough.