Christmas is a time when I always think of my parents, and their loss stings even greater than usual at a time when so many memories surface. I sat down and wrote a poem about it this week, finding myself in tears by the end, struggling to see the keyboard to finish it. I always miss them, you see, but at this time of year it's harder than ever because sometimes I even dream about those Christmas holidays long ago, so real I can still see them in my mind, but gone forever just as my parents are.
I am not the only one who struggles this way. In our community alone I have one young friend who is also struggling with the loss of a parent and the sense of things left unsaid and undone, and I know another family who is facing their first Christmas without their "shooting star", their beloved son who was taken from them far too soon. I empathize with them so deeply, and while I cannot know the entirety of their story or their pain I know that at this time of year the joy and happiness and cheer can come in stark contrast when in your own heart you find sadness, and pain, and loss.
I am pretty good at faking festive. My house is decorated, and I am listening to Christmas carols. I have bought gifts and wrapping paper, and I have begun baking cookies. I am trying so hard to find it, that elusive Christmas spirit, but this year, just as it has done every year since both my parents have been gone, it had gotten very clever at hiding.
There are moments I glimpse it, too, peeking at me just beyond my grasp, and then it slips away again, leaving me feeling a bit wooden and going through the motions of "festive". I have experienced other losses this year, you see, and there is a date close to Christmas that had significance for many years of my life but that this year is just a day to get through. This year, perhaps more than any other, Christmas is presenting me with a challenge.
And so here is what I intend to do. I intend to let myself grieve a bit, for parents gone forever and dates that have gone from being celebrations to being a bit painful. I intend to allow myself to work through those things, and to not feel I must "celebrate" or "be merry". And then I intend to wrap some gifts, put on some music, pour some wine, and ensure the Intrepid Junior Blogger has a wonderful holiday season. I intend to hold her and the dog and the cat (and the ferrets if they will allow it) close because I know how precious these days are, as one day they will end. I may or may not find my Christmas spirit this year, but what I will do is treasure every second of it regardless, because I know that one day these will be the memories of Christmas' past too. I am sure there were times when my parents didn't feel the holiday spirit, and when they managed to "fake festive", even when the most wonderful time of year just wasn't wonderful at all. I intend to spend time with friends and family, I intend to sleep in on occasion and stay up late on others, watch holiday movies and drink egg nog and rum and fall asleep on the sofa with the lights still twinkling and waking up at 3 am with the cat stretched on top of me. And I will think of all those others who struggle at this time of year, and keep them in my heart because they are not alone. They are in good company, with so many of us who muddle through the holidays, faking festive and making merry. And you know what? It's okay, because the holidays shouldn't be about how we "should" feel. They should be about how we do feel, and finding a way to explore those feelings at a time of year that is the most wonderful, and perhaps the most challenging.
This is the poem I wrote about my parents. I wish they were still here with me, but I know that the memories I have of them will last forever - or at least until the end of my days on this earth. What I know is this: my Christmas spirit may be elusive this year, but I will hold close all those that are dear to me, because I know that these moments do not last - and they are precious, each and every one.
The Ghost Of Christmas Past
I think of Silent Night
Sung in German, not English
The only German words I knew
The only ones they ever taught me
I think of that long dining room table
The one he made in his workshop
Large enough for a family of girls and husbands and grandchildren
And how it would be covered by the food she made
Lovingly stooped over a stove for hours
Kneading, mixing, stirring, creating
Her face flushed and her knuckles red
I think of those Christmas trees he found
Often missing branches
Somehow he always found the Charlie Brown tree
And brought it home
Because he had a habit of bringing home those that were broken to fix them
I think of how she would laugh when she finally sat down at that table
How he would settle in
How we would talk of everything
Family, politics, lives, careers, dreams
I never understood how fortunate I was back then
Never realized how one day I would look back
And miss it in the very depths of my heart
How those crooked trees and that German carol
That food and that table
Would wrap themselves around my heart
Create memories I would not forget
And leave a loss in my soul when it was gone
I will never forget those nights
Late on Christmas Eve just before midnight mass
When the snow lay on the ground like a thick white blanket
The windows glittered with shining lights
The warmth of the glow within spilling out the glass
And onto the soft snow
Sometimes I dream of them
So close I can almost touch them
But I can never go back there again
Except in my memories
And my heart.