It’s almost Christmas. We found out we were expecting Matthew two years ago ON Christmas, which makes it seem extra unbelievable that he died and also makes this seem like an anniversary that will always suck.
“What are you doing for Christmas this year?! What fun traditions do you have?!” one of our company higher ups recently asked me with an irritating hint of exuberance.
“Ummmmm… I’m not sure…” I stuttered, “Last year we didn’t celebrate Christmas…”
“Oh…” he answered, obviously disappointed, “Well, so this year, you’re just going to have to celebrate DOUBLE to make up for it!” he declared, enamored by his brilliance.
“Uh huh… So… We really need to finalize this budget, right?” I segued into a new topic all the while screaming in my head, “THIS ISN’T REALLY HOW IT WORKS!!!”
Later I told Mark about my conversation, and he got this kind of constipated look on his face. It’s because he’s uncomfortable when I disclose that we didn’t celebrate Christmas last year. (He grew up with a whole lotta Jesus.) And he immediately corrected me, “Christine, we DID celebrate Christmas. On Christmas Eve, we visited Matthew’s grave, and, on Christmas Day, we delivered food to lonely people with no family in Matthew’s memory.”
So I conceded that yes, we acknowledged that it was Christmas, though it didn’t really feel like a celebration without the trees and the lights and the gifts and the ham and the smiles.
This year, as it relates to Christmas, and I guess in general, I’m in a different place from where I was one year ago. Instead of wanting to stab anyone who displays Christmas lights or take “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” as an invitation to drench myself in gasoline and light a match, I’m much more numb to everything… I’m thankful for the good in my life, and I’m eager to experience Joel’s first Christmas, but there’s also a blanket of sadness cast over everything, and I can’t say I’d be disappointed if someone just cancelled the holiday altogether.
And I kind of have a Scroogy attitude about presents – like this aspect of Christmas feels entirely unimportant…
It seems like, this year, some might have this perspective as it relates to me and Christmas like, “Yay – back to it!” So I feel the need to stress that although we’re planning a more traditional Christmas celebration, my heart still isn’t exactly in it…
Mark just asked me whether or not I want to visit Matthew’s grave tomorrow, and I immediately burst into tears. Last year when we visited, I just collapsed into the earth in a pile of heaving sobs and stayed there until someone eventually picked me up and dragged me to the car. This year, I’ll probably do the same, although I might not throw myself onto the ground because temperatures are far colder.
This is why we’ll never really be able to “celebrate double.” We’ll always have our child’s grave to visit. While some things might become easier with time, it’s pretty safe to say that this one never will.
I attended December support group (“Oh, you still attend that?” someone recently asked. Ummmmm? Duh…), and there’s always so much discussion about how to get through the first year of Christmas festivities without your child…
I guess to this I would say that it is going to suck, and there’s no way to make it any better. No amount of “trying to be positive” will make it suck any less. People full of good tidings of comfort and joy are going to make you want to set yourself (or them) on fire. Few will understand your pain, and probably many will fail to mention your child’s name, and some will pressure you to engage in old traditions with a smile on your face, professing thankfulness for your “blessings,” all the while you are dying on the inside. Some will do a great job trying to comfort you, and while you’ll be so appreciative, this will do very little to ease your pain.
When grieving such a great loss, your heart is the only thing that matters – drive your own car to the celebrations so that you may exit quietly, lock yourself in the bathroom, tell an insensitive mother-effer to eat shit, or take a vacation to Aruba. Or try to do Christmas “normally” if you desire. Just do as you see fit, no matter what this looks like.
It is about surviving, and nothing else. So be gentle with yourself. Those who matter will either understand in the moment, or they will eventually come around.
And, next year, things will be different. Maybe not better, but different, as the only constant in life is change.
Wishing all of those reading this a happy holiday, and if happy just isn’t possible, I’m wishing you a gentle one.