I’ve learned this. Grief is a guest. It’s easy to treat it as an unwanted guest — to leave it unattended in the other room, to not even ask if it wants a soda or anything. Don’t be a jerk to grief. Go in there, sit down with it, get it a damn soda. Be an adult — offer it that soda in a glass with ice. Acknowledge it.
Last Christmas, the first without my mom, we did my family’s Christmas exactly as if my mom was there. We went over to my parents’ house at the same time as always, my dad wrapped all the gifts she had bought us before she died, even his own, signed them from her, made her signature dishes, decorated the tree as she had, etc, etc. And we sat there, around her tree, opening her gifts, listening to the Christmas station she always played, etc, etc.
It was grueling. It was painful. It was like we were putting on a play and acting as ourselves. And the actor playing the role of my mother was Grief. It sat in with us, taking her place.
Not one second after we left, I got in the car with my wife, and I announced, “we are never, ever doing THAT again,” as I ripped the knife out of my gut.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why we did that — why we re-created a Christmas with mom without mom. None of us decided to do it consciously. It just happened. The obvious answer is we knew no other way. It was only a month after she died. What else were we supposed to do? Just magically forge a new tradition right then and there?
I wish. I wish things could magically create themselves. Life would be easier that way, if we didn’t have to trudge through the hard stuff first.
That’s all it was — the re-creation, the theatrical play. Just a trudge. Nothing more, nothing less. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself about it.
My dad and sister had also bought tiny gifts acknowledging the baby last year. Who was, at that point, something between a clump of DNA and a tadpole. I felt deeply uncomfortable opening those gifts — just a baby hat and a Ravens “future linebacker” tree ornament. At one month pregnant, anything could have happened at that point. Those were terrifying gifts on multiple levels.
And yet those tiny gifts were like seeds that have sprouted fully into wrapped, shiny, big boxes this year. Now we have a six-month-old, and he has tons of presents. Not that he cares, although I like to think babies show their appreciation by how desperately they try to cram the wad of wrapping paper down their throat. And by that measure, my kid is obviously thrilled.
We’re hosting Christmas at our house for the first time. Of course, Grief will also be a guest this year, although it won’t be playing a starring role, and it’ll be just stopping by to say hello. I’ll welcome it to stay as long as it likes, but it keeps having to run. It stopped by last night, but only for a few minutes. If it shows up today, that’s cool, whatever. I bought it a special soda — the Cranberry Splash kind. If it shows up tomorrow, I’m armed with glasses full of ice.
I’m armed with plates full of wasabi deviled eggs, cornflake casserole, baked brie, spanakopita, mini crabcakes, brownie brittle, popcorn, fudge, cookies, egg nog, and cider. That’s a good spread, eh? I’m not just all Pop Tarts and dollar store candy, folks.
Merry Christmas out there. Forge on, trudge on, surf on.