Without a second thought, I stepped right into the holidays, as I’ve done for all but one year in the last 15 (the year Megan died was a little different). Just after Thanksgiving, we got our Christmas tree, put up lights on the house, decorated indoors, and as a first, we set up my old model train on the dining table, complete with snow, buildings, bridges, and trees.
We attended plays, went for drives to look at lights, and listened to Christmas songs on the radio everywhere else we went. We baked gingerbread cookies, wearing silly elf hats, and hiked in what little snow we’ve received so far this winter.
I try to make this season happy and memorable for everyone around me, especially Shelby. Ensuring that she has good experiences is of the utmost importance to me. I love that I can now do the same for Sarah. This was the first Christmas she’s spent with us, travelling to my parents’ on Christmas eve, and Megan’s parents on Christmas day, as has been tradition for a decade.
Gifts are being purchased right up until the day before. There’s always one or two little things that are forgotten until the last minute. Dishes are prepared for taking to the parents’ dinners, things are wrapped up at work, fir trees are watered, the house is seemingly under a constant state of “cleaning up”, and there are bits of wrapping paper and ribbon everywhere, both before and after the holiday itself.
All of this “merriment” is about as far from it as I can get. It’s a lot of freaking work. Megan enjoyed Christmas, and loved all of the preparation and celebration, but it was, and still is a stressful time for me. Make no mistake, I enjoy Christmas eve/ morning/ day, but I’m a hell of a Scrooge in the weeks and days leading up to it and afterwards.
Perhaps it’s because I just want to get through that holiday. I want to have 4 hours to relax and not have to “do anything”. I’m certainly not the only one doing any work. Shelby and Sarah did just as much, if not more. They decorated the tree, wrapped the gifts, furnished the house, purchased presents, made cookies, and somehow shepherded me through. They ensured Megan was honored with little touches throughout the house, when I myself, maybe subconsciously, would rather not think about her absence.
Perhaps it’s the “giving spirit” of the season. I want to give to others, in both gifts and experience. I want my parents (and in-laws) to enjoy their time with us at Christmas as they age, knowing full well that Shelby will, much too soon, come into teenage years and adulthood herself and maybe be less of a presence during their holiday. I want to make sure we spend as much time with them as we can, while still making our own new traditions as a family.
Perhaps it's the extra-slow days at work, like this morning, where maybe a quarter of our employees are here. I could have taken time off for myself, but in all honesty, being out of the house and in the office is a break. Though I have work to do here, there is more at home, with the wind-down from Christmas. Now all of those decorations need to be taken down and stored for 11 months. The gifts need put away, and the house needs a deep clean. Leftovers are bulging the fridge at the seams, much like the waistband of my pants.
The month of December is, in general, a busy month, where I don’t take time for myself. This year has been no different, save for the first weekend, and that has made all the difference. I finally DID take time for myself, and it was a disaster that has sent me into even more of a tailspin. Slowly, methodically, I have been becoming more and more grumpy and stressed. I’ve been self deprecating the past week, feeling almost as if I’m ruining the holiday for the rest of those surrounding me. As much work as I’ve put in for others to enjoy the festivities, I’ve counterintuitively put that much less work into myself, and it’s come to a head.
I’ve descended into a place where I need outside help. It doesn’t have to do with being a Widower (well, maybe a little bit). It’s has to do with me being a person that I once was, and that I swore I would never be again. I was once easily angered, temperamental, grumpy, and mean-spirited...year-round. I took my own stress out on others through no fault of their own. The most inconsequential perceived slight would send me into a fit.
This holiday has brought that person back, unexpectedly. After all of the preparation and work, after all of the time spent giving and giving and giving, I’m “taking” by suddenly doing it all at once, the very moment I have the chance. That’s not good. It’s something that caused problems between Megan and I, and it will cause problems between Sarah and I.
The fact that Megan is gone, but I spent 12 Christmases with her gives me the experience to know that this is a rabbit-hole I don’t want to be going down. The holiday has magnified it. After 12 years with Megan, it too had come to a point where I was starting to think I was broken, but the traditional stress had slowly evolved into quiet, misplaced, acceptance of it, followed by serious preliminary work into myself Then she died.
I never got to work on myself the next Christmas. I was too deep into grief, loneliness, and despair. I missed her, and tried my best to make it halfway decent for Shelby. Last year, Sarah was in Texas for the holiday, and I had a similar level of stress, albeit more because of loneliness and longing, and not loss.
This year, Sarah was with us, and it’s almost as if the “Play” button was pressed again, after being paused for some time. I was transported back to 2013, and being the person I was at that time. It’s scary, and it’s not fair to Sarah or Shelby. The difference is that “I know the drill”, and I know what I need to do to make Christmas not only a happy, memorable day for them, but also myself.
Now to get to work on me.