And so they’ve arrived. I have to admit; I had been dreading the arrival of the holiday season since early summer. I knew they’d arrive, I just didn’t know how fast and how hard. I tried to mentally prepare myself by keeping busy, volunteering my time and focusing my energy on things that would fill my empty heart; but what grief doesn’t prepare you for are the unexpected pokes at the heart that come out of nowhere: Christmas Carols blaring in a store that make you tear up, waking up alone to raindrops pounding on your roof, a chill going through you at night and not having those arms around you to keep you warm, commercials on TV that show happy, smiling families on Christmas morning, the list goes on and on. Nothing can ever prepare you for these hits when you’ve just lost a loved one, let alone the love of your life.
Yesterday I found the strength to decorate the Christmas tree and put out the holiday decorations. As I was growing up, I remember the fullness in my heart that I used to have when my mom would decorate the house for Christmas. I felt warm, secure and loved by the site of our Christmas tree lit up in the living room, or the garland wrapped around the staircase. It was a symbol of love, family, faith and giving. I owed that to my children this year so I busted out the blue bins from the garage and started working away.
I took about 10 crying breaks yesterday. It wasn’t because I was feeling sorry for myself, it was because of the unexpected “hits” that occurred during the day. You can prepare yourself for decorating the house without your loved but you can’t prepare for the reminders that come out of nowhere that reiterate their physical presence. The first hit was when I pulled the blue bins in from the garage. My late husband’s writing was all over the bins. “Xmas Decorations.” “Ornaments.” “Lights.” It was tough to see, but I felt comfort in knowing there is still a piece of him everywhere I turn.
The next hit was when I opened the bin. I immediately saw his stocking:
Do I hang it this year? Do I keep it in the bin? I was so confused and sad. Would I feel bad if I didn’t hang it this year? I put the stocking aside and told myself that I didn’t need to make that decision right away.
A friend of mine had a brilliant suggestion that I hang it and we write letters to him that we can save and hand down to the next generation. I loved that idea but I still pondered with whether or not I should hang his stocking. Part of me felt like if I didn’t hang it, it would show a sign of strength that I am moving forward with new traditions, but the other part of me felt that if I didn’t hang it I would be forgetting him too soon. I decided to hang the stocking and after 2 hours of walking past it and crying, I decided we could still write the letters without the stocking being hung this year. I decided to put it in a special place for the time being and that has brought me comfort.
Next came the nutcracker display. I am not a huge fan of nutcrackers, but one of my boys loved them and over the years we’ve received them as gifts. The collection has grown large enough for us to create a special display for the holidays and it was my husband’s favorite part of decorating. He always insisted on putting up the display and I always smiled at how much he loved our collection. This is a picture of him last year as we were decorating the house (this was one of his favorite nutcrackers because of the love and pride he always had for his country):
A few years ago my husband and I were in New Orleans and I saw a nutcracker in a gift shop dressed in mardis gras gear and beads. My husband said to me, “Oh…that needs to come home with us.” It was the first nutcracker we bought together and it holds a special place in my heart. As I pulled it out of the bin, I needed to take another crying break.
I managed to get through the day and I accomplished a decorated tree, a nutcracker display, stockings hung, garland around the stairs, the set-up of the nativity scene and many other decorations we’ve collected over the years. I saw the smiles on the boys’ faces and that’s all I needed to see to know that I did the right thing:
A relative of mine shared this song with me and I want to share it for those who are reading this who are going through the holidays with space in their heart because of the loss of a loved one. It’s called, ‘A Different Kind of Christmas” by Mark Schultz:
I love the lyrics, especially the following verse:
Just Because You’re Up in Heaven
Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Near
It’s Just a Different Kind of Christmas This Year.
These words resonate with me because even though a lot of the memories that were conjured up yesterday made me sad, I have to think that memories we have of him will always keep him near and alive in our hearts forever. It’s a great gift, even though I’d give anything to have him back. But I can’t, so we continue to keep these memories strong, vibrant and alive in our hearts and minds. I equate it to how I felt when I saw the decorations in my house growing up (feelings of comfort, love and faith). As I stare at my Christmas tree while I write this, I smile knowing that this season should be a time to celebrate the extraordinary love we shared through the years and the memories we made.
After a tough day of going through every emotion possible, today I opened the door and there was a package on the doorstep. It was a necklace I purchased for myself as a Christmas gift to get me through the rest of the year. A coworker told me about this jewelry maker who takes notes from your loved ones and copies them from a file and then etches the note onto a pendant. Below is a picture of one I made from a note my husband once wrote me:
Click here for info on how you can purchase for yourself or a loved one:
These make a perfect gift for the grieving and it brings me so much comfort knowing I can look down and hold these words close to my heart. Words that created an extraordinary life and extraordinary memories not only for us but for our children as well.
If you’re grieving this holiday season, I hope you find a lot of smiles through your tears and signs that your loved one is near, even though it’s a different kind of Christmas. Our loved ones would want us to celebrate the season of love and giving. Reach deep in your heart and keep those sweet memories alive. It’s the fuel we all need to keep going and to get us through this difficult time of year. Happy holidays to each and every one of you and God bless.