The Fates didn’t Allow: Christmas and Big Grief

The following was shared in December 2016 on a blog for friends and family. It’s being shared here to provide more context to my story and remember those years of intense grief that make my story whole.

It happens every single year. In the time between Thanksgiving and early December I’ll be driving at night, a Christmas song will come on the radio, and the red and white lights from the cars in front of me and behind me suddenly transform from car fixtures into a dancing display of Christmas lights. And I’m struck with grief. Another year — another Christmas — without my mom.

It might feel different, less heavy and less oh-my-god-I-can’t-breathe if Christmas had not been my mom’s favorite holiday. If she didn’t obsess over peppermint hot chocolate (occasionally with Schnapps) for an entire month out of the year while she played Irving Berlin’s White Christmas on repeat until my sisters and I begged for a different movie. If she didn’t obsess over having a perfect house for when we came home for break, making sure there was stew in the crockpot and a fire in the fireplace for the moment we walked through the door. If she hadn’t insisted that we wait to get a tree until we could all be together, and if she didn’t tell us every single year “this year we’re getting a small tree,” and if she didn’t cave the moment she saw our eyes light up for the perfect tree that was several feet taller than her height requirement. But Christmas was her favorite, which means that each year since her death I am acutely aware of what we should be doing if she were here and what we’re not doing because she isn’t.

There’s a line in the classic song Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas where it says “through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow…” Every time I hear that line there’s a twinge of pain deep in my chest and I want to yell BUT WHAT IF THE FATES DIDN’T ALLOW!? What about those of us who sit in the shadows of holiday magic and joy, hear the music and the laughter and the fun and wish it would go faster so it would end sooner? Where is OUR song? Where is our song for those of us where fate played its hand in the most dismal display of heartache? For those of us where Christmas is a painful memory of the past instead of a joyful gift of the present? For those of us that see our family dynamic change so much that we don’t know where we belong on that day, or even if we want to? What about us?

Holiday grief is big, it’s bold, and it’s going to do whatever the fuck it wants. The first Christmas without my mom (which was two months after she was killed) was spent trying to do it as we had always done. No, bigger than we had always done. A giant tree, more giant than before. Beautiful decorations. Ribbons everywhere. Then Christmas Eve came and I wanted nothing to do with it because everything was inherently wrong. It was as if I went through the motions of Christmas — everything bigger and better than before — to conjure my mother into being. And when it didn’t happen, I was heartbroken. I sat in a chair on my phone with a cat. I was told I needed to come to the table, so I brought the cat and fed it roast beef throughout the meal while people told me I shouldn’t do that (YEAH, TRY TO STOP ME).

On Christmas Day my sisters, dad, and I made our way to our cabin in the mountains, and if everything could have gone wrong, it did: Halfway down the road, our car died. We got the car back home, switched cars, went to Safeway because none of us had the forethought to actually buy food, only to realize that it had closed 3 minutes prior. Around that time my older sister, Lauren, and I started singing our own carol of “fa-la-la-la-LA la-fuck-my-life.” Further into the mountains we got stuck in the snow, which is about the same time Lauren took Ativan. By the time we made it to the cabin, the pipes were frozen and the heater was broken and my mom’s stuff was everywhere almost as if she actually was, and we warmed old soup on the stove because we had no other food. But we had alcohol. Oh, did we have alcohol. We started drinking, and Lauren, who had taken Ativan and was reading a Stephen King novel began hallucinating because of her reckless mixture. She was convinced she was living out parts of The Gunslinger. My twin, Mckenzie, calmed her as she sobbed herself to sleep. I went to bed, crying while I stared blankly into the dark room. This is our life now.

Almost everyone I know who has lost someone significant in their lives views the holidays as something to “get through”. It can feel like every song, festivity, and sentiment forgets about this soft, painful, vulnerable underbelly of the holiday that countless numbers of people around the world experience. Holiday grief takes many forms but it demands to be met: You might hold your traditions closer than ever before, possibly because you have a family and children to support. Sometimes it’s easier to hold your heart outside your body — dissociate from it all — until it passes. Other times you throw on your gators and wade through the holi-grief with the mantra “just get through the holidays”. Or maybe you tuck your grief in your pocket, do Christmas as you’ve always done, and when it’s safe, take your grief out, try it on, look at it, rub your fingers over it’s texture, and re-pocket it for safe keeping. Sometimes it’s all of those things and none of those.

And if you, too, try to conjure your loved one by going bigger and better this Christmas than you’ve ever done before, give yourself a hug and remind yourself that you have permission to feel every inch of pain, every hope for a different outcome, and every bit of love, in whichever way feels right to you. I’ll try to do the same.

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