Christmas Roulette

It is nearly December… sigh.

In all honesty, I dread the arrival of the holidays. We are Christmas people who over-decorate every inch of our home. We have amassed an attic full of trinkets and baubles that I just lugged downstairs. The end of the Georgia summer heat sets off a season of much-loved family tradition and I should be excited for its arrival. But, now… now there is a specter – a tangible presence is ushered in with the falling leaves and hovers in our home. It would be more apt to label it a tangible absence.

I would best describe it as a constant feeling that something bad is about to happen – like I’ve got a bill due that I cannot pay or a tense confrontation that is imminent. I can function, smile, and do what I’m supposed to do. But this feeling is perpetual and keeps me on edge.

The specter haunts anyone who has experienced recent loss and certainly every grieving parent I know shares my dread of the Christmas. This time of year is the ultimate paradox and I’ll share the main reasons why.

The holidays bring family together. We sit, talk, reminisce, and look forward. And while we laugh, my mind drifts back to chilly February days when this same group of loved ones sat vigil watching Kylie’s body deteriorate. Days later we gathered around a coffin. Those images resurface when our larger family is together. Same group of people, same scenes floating through my mind. I wish they would stop, but I can’t make them and don’t know if I ever will.

Holiday traditions are another struggle. Sometimes following them makes me happy and sometimes it leaves me gasping for breath because the hole is magnified times ten. I have no way of knowing which emotion will surface – grief’s most callous trick is its randomness. To compound the problem, modifying traditions feels like I am trying move on from a space I can’t and don’t want to leave. It becomes a game of Christmas Roulette – spin the chamber and fire, never knowing which tradition will shoot a bullet straight through the heart.

Do we hang the stocking?      Yes

Will it cause me to sigh every time I pass?      Yes

Do we hang Kylie’s ornaments?      Yes

Can we ever make a Christmas card again?      Not Likely

When we watch Elf will I always hear her Buddy impersonations?      Yes

Oh, the memories that this time of year brings: tree shopping, elf tricks, screaming babies in Santa’s lap, early morning sprints to the stockings, red and green wrapping paper explosive mayhem. In the silence of the season, I love them and I crave them. But I also despise them because one of my children won’t be coming downstairs to pour through her stocking.

It’s a very cruel Holiday Paradox.


Rather than leave this post without any hope or positivity, I’ve been trying to figure out what advice to offer those who might have a friend or loved one living this paradox. This is hard because I do not believe time heals all wounds and since the circumstance that caused the grief cannot be altered, there is almost nothing anyone can do to help. I think the greatest gift I could receive is for friends to understand that they just can’t understand nor can they fix. Words likely won’t comfort but a listening ear is to be cherished.

In the end, I suppose my Christmas wish is for my friends to enjoy their holidays, love their families, and know I might need an extra ear or shoulder from time to time in December. If they can do that and tolerate my lunacy until January, I’ll get by. And when the game is roulette without a wheel, getting by is the best and only option.

19 thoughts on “Christmas Roulette

    1. Your words mean so much to me. Even tho we never met I understand and feel your pain. I was NOT going to put up a tree this year but that would not be fair to my other son. So I will go through the gut reaching task of Christmas traditions. Tomorrow is the 1st anniversary of loosing a part of my heart. It will alway be empty however I hope to cover it up so my other son is not as sad as I. I ask if we should put up the tree and he said yes. So as hard as it will be I will do it. Thank you for sharing your feelings because it make me feel a little less crazy. I have good ears so if you ever need them I am here. Looking forward to January!!


      1. I am sorry for that anniversary. Kylie has three sisters, so we have to do what we can to carry on for them. It wouldn’t be fair to diminish their Christmas, as you said. But that is hard. Thank you for the ears…

  1. Mark, this may the most unhelpful thing I have ever thought and then written. It is just that reading this particular post I was struck with the “obviousness”: Love IS stronger than death. Kylie lives still, just in a different form. Your words are not of someone remote – they are of someone who is you and Kylie and each of you. Your words always are. Kylie always is.

    I cannot grieve with you. But both your pain and your love connect so intimately. And I pray love wins out for each of you this – and each – holiday.


    1. You always bring interesting thoughts. Yes, for sure, I carry her with me. As do her sisters and mother. But there is that lingering specter (or spectre, for you) of what was. The pain brings more love. But it is guarded. Very thought-provoking.

  2. My best friend from childhood died on Christmas Eve in 2011. We didn’t find out until Boxing Day, the horrible realisation that while we were all enjoying Christmas dinner while he was lying in a morgue is something that has never left me. The year before, my friend’s son died on Christmas morning. The year after, we gathered on Boxing Day for the first and only time with my older brothers to have our last Christmas with my grandmother knowing she would not be with us for much longer.

    Time doesn’t heal those wounds.

    I think that’s why I joined in with Airmail Christmas when my blog friend asked me to help with it. It was a way to bring some kind of positive outcome from something so sucky and also because I wanted to do something, anything that might give a chance of comfort to others who were really missing a loved one.

    I can only imagine the loss you, Robin and Kylie’s sisters. It’s as you say a weird roulette. What do you do?

    From what I can tell from observation of my own family and others who have lost children, things change a bit when grandchildren come into the picture. There’s ways of helping them know who their missing uncle/aunt is. And new traditions would have happened even if the missing family member was still here, so perhaps there is less guilt felt but no less grief.

    Whatever the answers are – if there even are any? I wish you all the best this Christmas to muddle through and get to January.

  3. Thank you Mark, you explained the heaviness inside our Christmas dread better than I could have, I am sure! My son Tamzin was diagnosed 18 years ago today, so Christmas has never felt the same eversince, for every one of those same reasons. Thanks for putting it into words so well. I certainly share all those feelings you feel you have to hide. Those lucky people who haven’t lost a child, can’t understand how impossible it feels to miss someone so much that it infiltrates everything about Christmas. I hope you have a moment of feeling Kylie is really there with you ,right beside you in her spirit form, although I’m sure you agree, it’s never enough as seeing & hugging her would be. I understand all you wrote, and reading how well you described ‘why’, has made me feel a bit less alone in that emptiness. Love to you, your ‘lovely wife’ & your 4 beautiful daughters. Kriss

    1. I’m sorry for that anniversary. Those days are hard. And no, you aren’t alone. Unfortunately there are a lot of us feeling lost at Christmas. We’ll stick together.

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