Ahhh yes...the holidays. It is a constant ride of ups and downs, like the world’s most depressing roller coaster. Kicking off with Thanksgiving. Spending time with friends and family, circled around a hearty dinner and laughter, I get to remember that Megan died just a week before that day. I don’t get to remember the 33 prior enjoyable Thanksgiving dinners. It doesn’t work. All I can recall is sitting in my parents’ dining room, crying, and having to leave the room in the middle of dinner.
Then, following that Thursday comes the epitome of consumerism...Black Friday. I avoid anyplace that may sell something like the plague that day. “You’re not going to con me into buying your baubles, Mr. Scrooge!” as I shake my fist in the air. But it’s fruitless. Inevitably, I'll need to fuel up my car, and Christmas music will be playing everywhere, even at the gas station. Sure enough, “Blue Christmas”, or “I’ll be home for Christmas” will softly emanate from a tinny speaker somewhere. Done. You’ve succeeded, Ebeneezer, in depressing me.
I swear, it’s like walking through a minefield. (Let’s not even mention that even before Megan’s death, if “All I want for Christmas is You” played for the 10,000th time in an hour, I wanted to gouge my eardrums out with a rusty butter knife)
Once through that particular weekend, I start to adapt. I can tune the music out and don’t have any particularly memorable moments that serve as triggers leading into Christmas. Well, that may not be entirely true. I don’t THINK I have any moments. Then I start to put up lights or trim a tree. “Oh crap...Megan did it this way”. “I remember when we cut our own tree.” “Didn’t her stocking go here?”
Ok. Reset. Thanksgiving is done. Trees are trimmed. Lights are on the house. Mariah has stopped her squawking for five minutes. Breathe.
Megan had trouble breathing...it was kind of her thing. She was an expert at not breathing well. It’s cold outside, and that’s when she was at her best not-breathing-wellness. Screw it, Shelby, put your coat on, we’re going ice skating downtown, because we CAN now.
Ahhh, there’s the silver lining. We couldn’t really go sledding or ice skating or even for hikes when it was cold outside. It would cause such fits of coughing and pain for Megan that even if she DID partake, I will feel ridiculously guilty for “dragging her out in this weather”. So hey, given that for all intents and purposes, we don’t have to worry about it anymore, let’s enjoy some cold and snow!
So we pile in the car, drive downtown, throw on some skates, and hit the ice, gliding beside the city’s Christmas tree and sipping hot chocolate, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a large speaker system, and this line right here:
“I don’t want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing i neeeeeed…”
I hate you, Mariah.
So I retreat again. Maybe I’ll just go backpacking. I hit the woods, and for two or three days, I get a reprieve. (Just read what I wrote last week). But I still have to return to “Holiday Spirit” back in the modern world. Sometimes, the effects of the woods can numb the memories for a few extra days, but ultimately, it’s getting close to Christmas, so one vision keeps recurring, and it’s for damn sure not sugar-plums. It’s Shelby, bounding down the stairs on Christmas morning, 2014, to presents, a bright tree, a full stocking, half-eaten cookies and carrots, and her dad, crying on the couch.
There is no escaping the holidays. They are what they are. They’re a time when memories are supposed to be formed. When traditions are made that last a lifetime. The problem for me, and I assume many widows, is that those memories and traditions were altered irreversibly one year. Maintaining traditions from “before” only seems to serve as a reminder that those we love are not there to partake. Attempting to form new traditions results in a pushback from our subconscious, a “wrong” feeling. I see Megan and Drew’s stockings hanging on our china closet, and it doesn’t feel right, but yet, moving them to the “main” area along with Shelby, Sarah and I’s stockings feels just as off-putting.
At the thanksgiving table, there will always be an empty chair, whether literal or figurative. There will always be less presents under the tree and a few less gingerbread cookies eaten. In my case, there will be less trips to the hospital and coughing fits, for sure, but even those “stressful” memories are missed in a sick way. In the 30 days or so of “The Holidays”, every tradition, memory, or joyous occasion seems to be tempered by loss, grief, and sadness five minutes later.
Everything has changed in the past three years. Not so much in actions, but rather, in the perception of those actions and events. It really does make it hard to enjoy this time of year, even though I truly want to. I don’t want to be a grinch. It’s not fair to Shelby, for one, but it’s not a healthy way to live in any case. Still, it is ridiculously difficult to just “keep on keeping on” when my brain keeps accessing all those parts of the past 15 years, and presenting them to me with all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile. Everything about the holidays is different, precisely because so much of it is the same, minus someone.
The only constant thought seems to be my hate for Mariah Carey shapeshifting into everything from a fuel station serenader to a jingle writer for the grocery store, as if all she wants for Christmas is to sell gas and lettuce. Seriously, I hate that song.