In my 38 years, I have never once not been with my parents on either Christmas eve or Christmas day. Even when I was in the military, I lucked out in that I wasn’t deployed over Christmas, and I was able to drive from North Carolina to Ohio, even if only for a 48 hour visit. Since 2002, I’ve added Megan’s family to that tradition, always ensuring that my second family was part of the holidays, but simply splitting time between both.
It was convenient that both my family and Megan’s family lived within 15 minutes of each other, and we never lived farther than 30 minutes away from either. Christmas Eve with my family, Christmas day with hers.
Since Megan’s death, that tradition has remained the same. Now, however, there’s a third and fourth family.
Being that we’re both widows, Sarah and I are far and away different in this respect from most couples that are divorced or were previously unmarried. Those third and fourth families aren’t people we chose to even slightly emancipate from. They are just as much a part of our lives and history and traditions as they ever were.
That makes the holidays, shall we say, interesting.
Sarah’s family doesn’t live nearby. They don’t even live in Ohio, save for her nephew, an hour away. They live in Texas and New York and Oklahoma and Indiana. I’ve met each of her siblings, and their families, and spent time with them, but never all at once. Such is geography.
Like Megan’s side of the family for myself, Drew’s family is Sarah’s second. Mine is Sarah’s third, and Drew’s is my fourth. Sarah’s is my third, and Megan’s is Sarah’s fourth. There’s also the extended families and friends, adding a fifth for each of us.
Math is hard. Moving on.
(They are not “ranked” in those orders, it’s just my “simple” way of describing it. They all have equal worth when it comes to the holidays.)
Which is why this year, Christmas will be interesting for me. Sarah, Shelby and I will be in Texas, with Drew’s family. It is the first time in almost four decades that I will not be with my parents, the first in sixteen years that I won’t be with Megan’s, on those two particular days.
Make no mistake, I love Drew’s family, and I AM excited to spend time with them on Christmas. There is an almost overwhelming premonition of guilt though. I almost feel as if I am betraying my own family, as well as Megan’s, not only by my own non-presence, but especially their granddaughter not being there.
I know they all understand that Sarah’s families are just as much a part of our lives now. I know they don’t feel betrayed or overlooked that we won’t be there on Christmas eve/day. I know they want us home, but they also want us to be happy and to honor both of our pasts. They all love Sarah as a newer part of their own family, and have welcomed her, cautiously at first, but wholeheartedly not long after, into their lives.
They “get it”. Sarah and I have been together almost four years now, and this is the first time we will be travelling as a family to Texas for the holidays. This isn’t going to be a yearly thing, and may not even be an “alternating years” thing. Sarah misses them at Christmas, as much as I am going to miss mine. I’ve seen her actively pining and homesick the past two years., It crushes me that we can’t be with all of our families at the same time; to see her enjoying the time with Megan and I’s families, yet looking at a picture of Drew or her own family gathered around a Christmas tree, her eyebrows raising, and the corners of her mouth lowering a bit.
Such is one of the complexities of widowhood and relationships after. Ours may have more geographical distance involved, but even if Sarah was born and raised down the street from me, and all of our families lived in the same city, there will always be the feeling of “spreading ourselves thin”.
It is much, much more acute in our case, as we will be 1400 miles and a time zone away from where I’ve always spent Christmas. Much like everything else I had to reinvent, evolve, change, and grow from after Megan’s death, I must see this as an opportunity to accept, enjoy, love, and learn without guilt or apprehension.