Wednesday, December 25, 2013
God Bless Us, Every One
No, really, I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
This time of year those two words come easily to our lips when exchanging greetings with friends and strangers.
On Sunday night a friend apologized for saying those two words to me. She was one of the first people to call and one of the most regular to call or text to see how I have been doing, but she felt guilty for those two easy words. She felt she should have somehow acknowledged my pain instead. Truthfully, I was glad she didn't.
Although I've gone to some of the holiday gatherings, it has been with a sense of trepidation. I wanted to go and be around my friends as though nothing were wrong. I crave that sense of normal, the sound of laughter and voices that aren't compelled to quiet themselves because of a lingering atmosphere of death. At the same time, I've worried that my presence might put a damper on festivities -- that people will worry that by being happy they remind me of my pain, by celebrating they remind me of my loss.
I wonder sometimes what they say after I'm gone.
I'll be honest, I've hugged a few young men I would never have thought of being quite so familiar with before. And watching families interact with their 20-somethings is painful at times. I've urged my friends to grab their kids and hang on tight, to hug their boys because that's something I cannot do.
But I don't want everyone to be sad because I am grieving.
My brand of grief doesn't feel that I should turn the world into a gray, lifeless place. I want to soak in the joy of the people around me like a sponge and feel the happiness of the season seep into my bones again. Sometimes, I will admit, there is an edge of pain to seeing someone else's joy, but I'll also admit that in many instances it had been there for a while.
I wish I could say that my response was universal, but it's not. I know people who have lost loved ones near the Christmas season and who still grieve, who years later don't want to celebrate this wonderful time of the year because it brings back pain. I know people who are more like the Grinch, begrudging everyone else their joy while they nurse the hurt in their own hearts, and I know people who just go through the motions because their grief still rules them even if they don't want to let anyone else know.
I'm determined not to be one of those people. I have too much in front of me to be painfully anchored in the past.
Instead, I want to drag Ethan's memory with me into every new Christmas. To let him live in my heart where I can love and protect him in ways I could no longer do in the flesh. I want to celebrate his life by hugging a stranger, by telling those around me that I love them, by remembering the things I wish I'd done more often and doing them every time I get a chance.
The pain I feel is no more acute than it would have been had Ethan left us on some unremarkable day of the year, say mid-September, which to me is probably the least memorable time of the year. There is no reason to weigh down Christmas with my grief, but there are lots of ways to let Christmas and all that it really means lift me up.
This year, while my grief still has the sharp edge of a new blade, it's a little tough and I've dragged a bit. Christmas cards that had not been mailed have languished and been put away for another year. There's been very little holiday baking. The Christmas Eve meal was a bit light and missing Ethan's favorite mac and cheese, even though the girls love it as well. There have been things that I couldn't quite bring myself to do.
But the lights on houses and trees have been just as bright and the excitement in the faces of two little girls and one somewhat bewildered baby is still as wondrous as on any other Christmas. The warmth of gathering with friends and family, of touching and exchanging good wishes for the season, is just as special. The real gift that we celebrate each Christmas is even more meaningful.
Celebrate, make memories, hug and eat and fill your hearts with the love of the season.
Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one.