I have never written about Christmas in detail on my blog because it has just been plain old too hard. I have closed my eyes, plugged my nose and jumped in and treaded water until I the season ended.
I should be an expert, I was coming upon my third Christmas several weeks ago, I should know what I am doing by now. But for the last two years, I had nixed all of our Christmas traditions and run away. We had traveled to Palm Springs, Phoenix, Washington. Heck, I would have gone to Kurdistan to escape Christmas.
Before he died, Eric and I were trying to shift the way we celebrated Christmas and have presents be about experiences instead of stuff, and we were planning on reviving an old tradition of ours, New York City for Christmas. What better way to have new, fancy, and fun experiences than in New York City?
A long ago Christmas where Liam and Katie did the escalator at Trump Tower.
But after he died, I wasn’t strong enough for New York and I decided that I would never be at our home for Christmas again. Home + Christmas = Eric memories.
This year I had a cruise booked but I had to cancel because of covid complications. Also, I had just paid fees and had tuition coming up for Liam’s first semester at military school. The only prudent financial decision was to stay home. I was really scared, but I took it one day at a time. I cried a lot because I was afraid. I was afraid because Eric wouldn’t be there. I had conquered almost everything without him, but I had not yet tackled Christmas in any real way.
The first Christmas after Eric died, I was so broke and sad. I had no idea what to do. Out of the blue came a check in the mail for $1,000 from a woman I used to nanny for in college. Her daughter had been our flower girl. She was such a wonderful influence on me all those years ago, she taught me a lot about being a mother and a wife. She called the check a late a bonus. Since I was adrift, and had no money or energy to create the pagentry of Christmas, I decided to go to my parents.
My parents did all they could to make Christmas festive, especially since I showed up with no Christmas presents. I had forgotten to buy them, and had no energy or creativity to create experiences. The time was too hard, no one mentioned Eric’s name. People don’t know how to deal with death. I know this because I have learned that everyone grieves differently and I am not the only person in the room who is grieving. Heck, I still don’t know what to say to someone when I find out one of their loved ones has died.
I think grief is conquered through self reflection, not what others say anyway.
Talk at my parents was all about how well I had moved on. All about how I had situated my “new life” so well. These were compliments, but not words I wanted to hear. Their house was a very stressful also because of my brother’s declining mental health. He would end up dying of homelessness a few months later.
These were such stressful and difficult issues to tackle.
“Lisa, we would like you to pull Jonny aside and have a pep talk with him,” my mom said.
Suddenly I was hysterically crying. “Well, who is going to pull me aside for a pep talk? Eric is dead.”
As my rant continued and my parents were shocked and silent. Then I realized that my kids had stopped what they were doing and were behind me, crying also. My parents apologized. We were all so raw from what had happened and our fears of what was to come with my brother.
That first Christmas and my second at my parents left me feeling abandoned and lonely. So this year, like it or not, a change was needed. We were staying home. Life somehow has a way of creating the perfect circumstances that provide situations where the next steps of grieving occur. So just going with it was what I could finally do, but mostly because that was what I had to do.
I pluged my nose, took a deep breath, jumped in and got ready to tread water. But upon reflection, that didn’t happen at all. Things were actually very nice. I was so nervous all along, what would happen? But we had Joe, who had a lot of time off in December. The army taught him to be such a great leader. “Everything will be fine baby.”
One afternoon he and Liam cleaned out one of the bays in the garage. I had asked Joe if he wanted to park his car in the garage when he stayed over so it wouldn’t get snowed on. (Joe does not live with us and he sleeps in the guest room when he stays over. He lives 45 minutes away. We both feel that is the best example for my kids and I also appreciate that he moves slowly with our relationship.) They came and got me and covered my eyes and then showed me his car in the garage.
I burst into tears. Of course. Seeing his car where Eric’s used to sit had a finality to it that I hadn’t felt in a long while. Joe offered to leave his car outside.
What about this picture could possibly make someone cry? Leave it to a widow!
“Absolutely not, I love your car here. I love you here.” I did and I do, but sometimes growing love pains and grieving loss pains intermix and result in bursts when we least expect it.
“Do you want me to go home for the holidays? Would that be easier? I don’t mind.”
Actually, one tradition lasts, from my parents, The Charcuterie Feast! of Christmas Eve.
When we were decorating the Christmas trees—Katie, Liam and I—we took some of Eric’s favorite ornaments to his apple tree and they stayed out with him during the entire Christmas season.
Christmas morning was lovely. Liam opened up a bunch of things he would need for Missouri Military Academy, the ultimate experience! Katie got experiences, lunch and pierced ears. A sushi making kit and class.
I got Joe the best date ever: North, Vueve Cliquoet, and Christopher Elbow chocolates. He got me a beautiful salad bowl that I had mentioned wanting months ago.
Katie getting her ears pierced the day after Christmas.
Christmas day was so very chill. We unwrapped by the tree, had coffee and cinnamon rolls. It was just like most every other house in America. It was very weird, almost Twilight Zoneish to have Joe beside me and not Eric. I liked it. But around 11, I went in my bed and cried a little because I am the hot mess widow.
Later, we had ham. Here was a new tradition. No gourmet prime rib and Yorkshire pudding that Eric would spend the day making. I didn’t miss it, the ham was spectacular and Joe ended up doing a lot of the cooking because I had an impromptu wine date with my friends, the cool Berryhill moms. After ham, the family watched a movie, did our things.
We were supposed to have dinner at a neighbor’s but her husband had covid, so we tried to have a Merry Christmas outside. The weather was perfect!
Then suddenly it was New Year’s and the kids were running around partying with coke and chips while Joe and I binge watched Downton Abbey and had champagne, until about 10:30 when the old people went to bed.
Then it was time to get ready for military academy for Liam and Blue Valley Middle for Kate. Then it was back to school, the kids' first days after having been homeschooled for two years.
I made it. We made it.
New traditions, ok, just the ham, but at least I didn’t run away.
Next year… Shall I run away? London? Paris? Or stay here in Stilwell, Kansas? I can do any of those with a stronger heart and a real smile. Knowing that Eric is nestled in my heart and there is room for new adventures and celebrations.