Monday, December 22, 2014

Ghost of Christmas Past

Don’t you hate when happy memories turn into painful reminders?  I know I am not alone in struggling through the holidays, there are ghosts everywhere.  

Christmas 1986
It seemed like everything changed in one year, the last “normal” Christmas my family had was 1999.  By 2000 my dad was sick and while no one wanted to say it, the prospect of it being his last Christmas (it was) found its way into everything

Growing up Christmas was always the same, the 23rd would be full of cleaning and baking, that night the beans would be set out to soak for the homemade baked beans and last minute preparations would be made.  The 24th would be cooking, cooking, cooking!  Chicken wings, a lasagna, a ham, a turkey…everything.  We would head to church for the early service then it would be back to our house for our annual party.  Having 4 brothers and sisters made for a packed house to begin with but by the time it was time to head back to All Saint’s Episcopal for the 11PM service it seemed that half of the town had passed through our doors. 

Church was always great too, something about the smell of the candles blending with the smell of the wooden pews…I don’t think I will ever smell that again.  The choir would sing all the same songs, the organ the loudest it has been all year and one voice in the choir a little louder than the others (Amanda, you know who I am talking about!) and we would head home with “Joy To The World” still ringing in our ears. 

Well, my dad is long gone, that house is long gone, and as it often happens, the church has gone through so many changes that while I may remember the building the faces inside would be foreign.  I know this is all part of growing up but I feel like other people got to space these things out.  My dad died, we sold the house and a leadership change in the church one right after the other.  There wasn’t much time to recover from one change before the next one happened.

Every Christmas I think about a big bellied man with a distinctive beard.  Someone who embodied everything that Christmas was about: faith, love, family.  My dad was better than Santa.  Even when we had nothing we had everything.  Each Christmas Eve he would put the star on the advent Christmas tree and read “The Night Before Christmas”.  My dad was Christmas.  While I really love celebrating with the girls and each year it gets more and more exciting with them there is still a hole in my heart that will never be filled. 

Yesterday we had the new annual family Christmas at my stepmother’s (and her husband’s) house.  It was great to see everyone and watch the kids open gifts and pig out on cookies but I left with such a heavy heart.  My dad would have loved this (well not my stepmother’s husband, that would have been awkward) but he never got the chance.  My kids will never know him; they will have a totally different relationship with Christmas.  All I can do is tell them about how great of a man he was, keep him alive in that way, but man, it’s hard.

This will be the 14th Christmas without my dad and to someone who has never lost a parent or someone close it may seem a bit extreme for me to still be so heartbroken after all this time but one never truly gets over something like that and special days just magnify the pain you carry with your daily.  If you do know someone who has suffered such a loss, especially in the time since last Christmas, please make it a point to reach out.  Let them know that you are there for them and that you are keeping them and their loved one in your thoughts.  Be sure they know that their pain doesn’t make you uncomfortable, they don’t have to hide.  Speak their loved ones name freely, there is nothing worse than feeling like everyone has forgotten.

Christmas is still a happy time for me, as it is for most people who are still grieving, but there are moments of tears and pain but that’s OK.  I am not ruining my holidays by being sad,  I am honoring my father by remembering.

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