Grieving a loved one during the holiday season and beyond
The process of grief after losing the love of my life.
December 28, 2016 at 4:58 pm
I was absent from church for the entire month of December, excluding the day of his memorial. I returned last Sunday. I was avoiding it because I couldn't face the reality of going solo. If the sermon relates to something we recently discussed, who's going to squeeze my hand? Perhaps some circumstances never change because I was an hour and ten minutes late. I am used to hearing, "Hustle up, Rion. I want to get there on time. Church goes in at 10:00." In running pants, sneakers and a cap, I entered the sanctuary. It wasn't my usual Sunday best, but Luke 12:35 says, "Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning." As I tiptoed past the ushers, the closing hymn was in progress. The children had already gathered around the rector for dismissal. Ordinarily, I would sit in our spot, but I opted for the hindmost pew, given my tardiness. I lowered the kneeler and prayed.
"LORD, will you please help me?"
A vague plea, but God is aware of what's transpired. We've been in communication. After service, a fellow parishioner held me close and said, "Honey, it will be difficult, but do your best to find comfort and joy in the holiday season."
I'll try. Difficult was an understatement.
Similar to returning to church, heading home for the holidays seemed daunting. I knew it would force me to accept my solitary reality. During a bout of insomnia, my mind began to wander. All generalizations are false, but it seems like everyone below the Mason-Dixon Line is having a bachelorette party, planning a wedding or receiving a baby shower invite. Meanwhile, I was researching which liturgy is appropriate for a memorial service as opposed to a funeral. It is so unfair and upsetting because he and I would have experienced all of those formative life events and they would have been really beautiful and love-filled. To remedy thinking about people, places and events that have nothing to do with me or us, I immersed myself in flashbacks.
I ventured to when I received the keys to my new place. He was my very first guest and became the most frequent visitor. "Wow, Rion's got her own spot! I am proud of you." He took notice of the hot pink dresser, which marks the living room. "Is that an AKA dresser?" Very funny. Another point of nostalgia is the large single-pane window. About a year ago, he had jury-rigged it with duct tape and an obscure fleece blanket to deter a draft. He said, "Watch Rion, so you know how to fix it if I am not here." Instead of watching, I gave him a hug. He smiled and said, "You must really love me."
While reminiscing took my mind off of frivolous thoughts, it didn't stop the inevitable shift. Change will happen whether I like it or not. That's how time works. The dresser is still pink, but it's morphed into a shrine of sorts. As for the window, a notice was issued stating that all front facing windows had to be replaced for "safety reasons." The "new and improved" window, without the ad-hoc insulation, makes the cold air palpable. Now my most common houseguest is the property manager because things fall apart.
The night before I went home for Christmas, sleep was sparse. Around 5:00 A.M. I reset my alarm for 1:00 P.M. It was labeled, "go home." The train was scheduled to leave at 2:30 PM. A gold minivan dropped me at the side door of Union Station with seven minutes to spare before the train departed. Two men wearing Santa hats were seated by the entryway in lawn chairs. In between them, a stereo played "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." One of the gentlemen said, "Smile little lady, Santa is coming to town."
Yeah, to bring you coal. Don't tell me to smile.
When I arrived at my family's house, I was in a fog. There were some unopened cards on my nightstand, underneath them was a necklace embellished with an eagle pendant. Well, it is an eagle if you ask me. He said it was a Phoenix, the mascot of my alma mater. I don't recall the occasion, but he gave it to me along with some earrings. Either way, I like the necklace. It's a good luck charm. In mid-October, the eagle/Phoenix fell off the chain. I sent him a picture. He replied, “Not that serious baby, can be fixed. Love you much." Now, I feel like it was that serious. Why would this necklace made of hematite and good vibes break a month before he passed? Was it a sign? Or is this the grief talking? I planned to take it to a jeweler for repair, but what's the point? Along with my merry spirit, the woman who I was when I wore the necklace is gone.
Christmas is about joy, family, life and light. Or, as I've seen in several social media posts, "Jesus, born in the city of David, is the reason for the season.” I agree with both, but for me, it is also about tradition. Tradition is the culmination of individual contributions celebrated year after year. For instance, every year, my mom makes her famous sausage dip, my dad gets the supplies to set out the luminaries and I make chocolate chip cookies for the neighbors. On Christmas Eve, we attend church as a family. On Christmas Day, we go to my Aunt's house for dinner. I vividly remember the first time I invited him to spend his first Noel with my family. When we met at the bus terminal, he was holding two enormous poinsettias, in addition to his luggage. "Do you think your mom will like these? Are they too much?" Never too much. In fact, his annual plant offering came to be expected. It was his unique gift to our family tradition. He is family. The Christmas cactus that he purchased before he passed, prior to Thanksgiving, is on display as a festive centerpiece. A nice way to externalize the loss, but it definitely doesn't hold a candle to standing next to him while he sings "Joy to the World" at midnight mass.
Christmas is also synonymous with gratitude. Believe me, I am grateful. Having a family to go home to is one of God's greatest gifts. I am blessed with loving parents who have gone above and beyond to help me honor the memory of my love. I am thankful for friends who've cooked for me, driven me around, booked flights from afar to visit me in the New Year and celebrated our love with gifts and shared memories. However, I am still at a loss and still a wreck. Mourning someone who only comes alive in my dreams is new to me. I want our planet back. I know it's a stubborn notion, but I would do anything for just five minutes from our last Christmas. If I got five minutes, then I'd want ten, then a half hour, then a full day. Reverting to 2015 is impossible. Remembering him while simultaneously living a meaningful life is the next best thing. Obviously, it takes balance.
In the words of Dr. Havelock Ellis, "All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on."