Looking up, she sees the tree, the lights and now her eyelids blinking, one bringing on and the other holding back the tears that are threatening to spill over. She brushes one escapee away from her cheek and continues to glare at the memory jogger. The grief is finally hitting her full force. So much loss; the people, the memories, the past, the parts of her family that will never be again.
She is seated at the foot of the ridiculously wide Christmas decoration, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Her hands hold a picture of a beloved dog, his fur so much like a lion’s mane. The picture was there only because he could not be, and she missed him terribly. At times like these, when nostalgia and bitterness got the best of her, he was her only refuge, his calm nature washing over her as she teetered over the emotional abyss. But he was not here this year, having left them a few months prior to play in the fields of Heaven. His absence was an acute presence in her life, she could never have known how greatly she would long for his large frame to be resting against her hip, his comforting warmth radiating to her very core, touching her soul.
She thinks of the people in her life that she would eventually lose, one by one, falling away from this world; their radiance extinguished and stolen by God as if they became merely a burnt out bulb in a string of twinkling lights. These were people she was not sure she could ever live without – her parents, her siblings, her aunts and uncles, her friends…her spouse. Overcoming past grievances, feeling as though she were emotionally solid, solid enough, she was dismayed to discover another side of herself in waiting.
Losing her first dog was a blow to the core of what she was made of, and she was ashamed to admit that she had changed, and it was not for the better. He was a family member, almost as a son would have been to her, and no less of a loss than a human would be, but it was expected, in time, that he would leave her. His loss was a thought she never dared ponder, and in denial of that natural order came a response so bitter, so overwhelming, that she feared what would happen the day she lost more.
Until this day, she worried, agonized over his absence at the holiday. Yet, Christmas was surprisingly easy to ignore, more than she would have ever thought possible, loving it as she did – the glitter, the glamour, the gloss of the commercialization effort; all of it so easy to disregard, to go through the motions, to not really feel it, it was saddening. Even the music and family company that used to get her in the mood for the season were painless to keep out, never really sinking in, just let it pass her by. She vowed not to let it all in, keep it at arm’s length and not enjoy the holiday because she felt so angry over the world continuing its journey without her baby. Despite even knowing, how could they?
She wonders; How do others who have lost their sons, daughters, husbands, wives - their parents - truly enjoy the season without the bitter aftertaste?
How does it become the innocent celebration once again, pure and without regret?
Most of her suspects that it never does, only changes, settling into something more complex – and right now she wanted no part of it. She missed blissfully enjoying Christmas…she missed him.
Sitting in the quiet glow of the tree, dark in the house but for her glistening tears, her sensitive nature got the best of her, the spill coming faster, her slow hands unable to keep time. She was wrong to be sitting here.
This part of her Christmas routine usually rewarded her need to grasp the basic meaning of the season, letting the heady, optimistic mix of feelings - love, peace, joy and happiness – as cliché as that sounds, wash over her. It served as the seal on the bottle, the top-off that made her feel complete; breathe in quiet, exhale peace. The alone time needed to signal the end of hectic efforts, instead delighting in the enjoyment of her labors. Time to let it all sink in and have peace settle over, soothing and caressing, creating a clean slate on which to eat, drink and be merry. This was her mistake this year, she should have opted to skip this part, knowing how she would be, for it is now the chink in her armor that let it all in. This first season without him that heralded all the future seasons without them.
Feeling more like an adult than she ever has, she sobs over her losses; past, present and future.