Yesterday, I posted about the amazing experience I had re-connecting with Meg. While that is wonderful and amazing and still with me, I still find it hard to reconcile it with what the Christmas season does to me emotionally. Knowing she is with me in spirit does not make the pain of her loss any less in the physical plane.
I used to love Christmas. Our family had a rich holiday tradition. I looked forward to it throughout my childhood and into adulthood. When I got my own home, I loved decorating for the holidays, outside and inside. Each year acquiring new decor. I was even crafty, making wreaths and centerpieces and wall hangings out of silk flowers. The Christmas section of the attic is by far the one with the most plastic storage bins!
Having children of my own made it that much more magical. Sharing family traditions and attempting to create new ones. Seeing the joy and excitement they had for the season. The ornaments they made, the ones I bought to reflect milestones or their interests at the time and the picture frame ornaments that are a delightful walk down memory lane. As we grew older, grandparents passed on to the next place, relatives moved away and/or married and had families of their own. We grew too big, too busy, too far apart to carry on the traditions as they once were. I miss it. I am nostalgic for it.
The tree is, of course, the centerpiece. I remember the trees of Christmases past. The shapes, the aromas, the big colorful hot lights! The quintessential symbol of the season, at least for us. I absolutely love to sit in the peace and quiet staring at the lights on the tree. I always have. It's as hypnotizing as gazing into a fire to me. It's almost as if I can see all of the Christmases past. The memories. The traditions. The anticipation of what this year will bring. There is peace in it.
The last Christmas tree decorating I truly enjoyed was in 2004. We had a huge tree. We were planning to host a huge Christmas dinner for our combined families. It was on our second floor playroom in front of the giant window. The biggest, most beautiful tree I'd ever had! We went to the tree farm to cut it down together. It was freezing that day! Trying to corral a 6-year-old and 3-year-old twins was challenging enough, let alone trying to select a tree! We decorated it the next evening to traditional holiday music. The cats underneath it the entire time. Trying to knock the lower ornaments off almost as fast as the kids could hang them. I remember the twins pretending to play the musical instrument themed ornaments we had. Meggie insisted on hanging all the cat ornaments and of course hung them in a cluster on the lower right hand corner of the tree at about her waist height for she knelt to hang them. They were so heavy, the branches nearly touched the floor. I remember sitting on the floor and the twins jumping into my lap for a snuggle while my older son ran around crazy. Then they all ran around crazy. Why we thought doing it before bedtime was a good idea is beyond me...
Barely two weeks later, exactly one week before Christmas itself, my experience of Christmas changed forever. There is nothing like losing a child to take the joy out of the season. She was buried December 22nd. Is it any wonder Christmas is a trigger for the pain and grief of her loss no matter how much I have integrated the experience and healed from it? It shouldn't be. Sure, holidays are difficult for anyone who has lost a loved one. When you lose them so close to the holiday itself, and especially a young child, it seems to be exponentially more difficult and painful. It stirs up the anger and the pain that is easier to manage at other times of the year. It's an anniversary. It's a trigger month. At least for me.
Still, it'll be 8 years this Christmas. Each year, it does get a wee bit different. I won't say easy or better, but different. The pain is not as sharp. I do find ways to have fun, to laugh, to be silly. I am trying really hard to make a conscious effort to find the joy of season I once held in my heart. It is not easy. Not at all. But each year, the pain is softer, the pain less visceral. Anticipatory grief I've found, is the sort I dread the most. You know it's coming. You have no idea exactly how you will respond. What will blindside you this year? When will it 'hit' you? Will it 'hit' you at all? Is this the year it really is easier?
Christmas music, particularly the traditional songs played on the radio or in stores this time of year make me crazy. Can't listen to them. It's literally like nails on a chalkboard to me. So I avoid it as much as I can. I avoid shopping in stores. Hooray for the internet! I've found new music by new or different artists that I can tolerate. Some I even genuinely enjoy. It's my new Christmas.
For the past 8 years, tree shopping is like this: Go to nearest tree establishment. Randomly pick a tree. This year all of us went instead of just me and we actually looked at maybe 4 of them before I said "this one" and was done. This is a huge step! I really didn't much care. A tree is a tree. I didn't always feel that way. In way, it's made me a much more efficient tree shopper. I pay the outrageous tree price and we drive it home. We set it up this morning to warm up. I dreaded the decorating as much as I was looking forward to it. It's the acknowledgement that it is that time of year again. I hate it. It keeps coming. Every. Damn. Year.
I have this fantasy of a fun family tree decorating 'party' like I used to have as a child. When you live in a house where Bullwinkle J. Moose is your tree topper instead of a star or an angel, you tend to have lots of fun. I miss it. I want to have it with my kids. I have tried for 14 years to cultivate that in my own family. Every year I fail.
There is always some sort of stress. The kids don't want to do it. They won't hang their ornaments. They think we're silly for wearing our Santa hats. They think I'm weird because I have a purple Tinkerbell Santa hat!! They fight over where to put their ornaments. It's never what I hope for or imagine. I have little patience for it but I take a deep breath, sit on the floor, let them attempt to work it out and fight off tears. I ask nicely if we could do this as a friendly, loving family. I point out that it doesn't take long. You should be nice to your mother. Then, I dismiss them, because they really don't want to do it and it's not worth insisting they do and they gleefully run off. It hurts, but it is what it is. Maybe because they are boys. Maybe because they just don't care. Maybe because on some level, they feel the same way I do and it's difficult for them, too. I hang the ornaments. Remembering when it came into my hands and why. Maybe it's really the way it should be, instead of my fantasy way.
I have many ornaments. I put maybe half of them on the tree. It looks a bit sparse. It's a respectable tree considering the lack of effort or attention in selecting it. I step back, in the quiet, and gaze at it. It is certainly filled with love just the same. The most meaningful ones are there, nestled in the branches among the twinkling white lights. The hand made ones by the kids I snuck on after they left the room because they refused to hang them out of embarrassment The baby's first Christmas ones, with the twins hung together, of course. A new 'Our first Christmas Together' ornament, a claddagh, as a keepsake of our wedding theme and one to remember our honeymoon by. There are the crocheted snow flakes my beloved Gram made. There are ornaments from my youth and gifted to me over the years. Those kitties Meg hung her last year alive, every year we hang them in the exact same spot she did. It makes me smile. The memorial ornaments for Meg we get every year at the Compassionate Friends Candle Lighting ceremony. The Merry Christmas From Heaven ornament gifted to us by the Funeral Home. Then, there are all the Tinkerbell ornaments. Meg loved Tink. So do I. Every year, there is a new Tinkerbell ornament in her stocking on Christmas morning and her twin brother hangs it on the tree. We have a whole lot of pixie power in our tree! There is even pixie dust! The angel is hung. I found her at a craft fair the year Meg died. She is lovely and folksy. She looks perfect as the guardian of our memories.
As I sit here now and reflect upon it, perhaps my mistake is in having expectations about the tree. Perhaps having expectations about anything related to the season at all is a mistake. Even if those expectations are positive. I should know better. Triggers are triggers. Some you know are coming, some blindside you, but the impact on you is the same. There is really no preparing for it. There is no ignoring it. Well, there is, but it will only manifest in another way. It is what it is. I will always feel Meg's loss more strongly this time of year. It's the anniversary of her death concurrent with a major family holiday. A recipe for a bittersweet experience under the best of circumstances.
This is where I must pay more attention. Remember how I was told Meg gets upset I don't pay attention to her? I made the mistake of focusing on my grief instead of being fully present in the moment. Now I feel Meg's presence. She's much happier now. :-) I know she was there with us when we were decorating, but I was too wrapped up in my disappointment and grief to recognize it and acknowledge it. I wish I was more aware in the moment. Note to self...
I will try to be. The next several weeks are the most difficult for me of the entire year. It is fraught with triggers. I am embarking on an emotional roller coaster that must be experienced as it is. A combination of joy and sorrow. Of what used to be and what is now.
Now, every day, I can look at our tree full of Pixie power and memories and smile. When the lights sparkle, it will remind me of her light.
I think, after some reflection, for the first time in eight years, I'm happy to see a Christmas tree in my living room. It's pretty. It smells like Christmas. The cats like to sit under it. It makes me smile. And it's a testament to my journey.