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.

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The Missing 10

Birthdays are a strange thing. To celebrate momentous occasions such as graduations, retirements, and anniversaries seems fitting. After all, there was a worthy accomplishment that drove the event. But birthdays? I had literally nothing to do with mine. All of the precursory work was done by others. My only job was to breath and cry after the doctor slapped my butt.

At fifty, the doctor has other posterior procedures that bring me to tears. Life has come full circle.

But birthdays do change along the way. They no longer mark status changes – I can drive now, I can vote now, I can legally buy Billy Beer. Officially over the hill, birthdays mark descents into new decades. Why celebrate the slide down the hill? Some people do celebrate to the fullest – I’ve just never been one. I have always found it odd to say: “Congratulations! Well done on being born!”

And then, after so many birthdays, life inevitably deals us all a great loss and things like birthdays seem monumentally unimportant. Festive occasions are no longer the celebrations they should be. While there can be great fun, they also seem to highlight absence. Something is missing.

This year brought my fiftieth and my wife spearheaded a campaign. The girls wrote notes reminding me of the 50 times we had laughed together over the years (most of which were initiated by my stupid or immature behavior.) These were placed around the home and I stumbled on them throughout the day. With just the prompting of a few words, I relived memories that brought many smiles to my face.

 

Sister Bombs

Silly stories with Magoo & Bongo

Teaching daughters to pee on a tree

Jumanji

 

But the absence.

I did the math. As originally constituted, after removing the recipient (me) from the equation, our family was perfectly divisible by five. The fifty notes should have been divided up ten per member. But that’s not the way it works now. When divvied up that way there is a remainder of ten. Someone had to pick up the slack to get to fifty and it’s killing me to know what would be on the missing ten.

The missing ten. What would Kylie’s be? What made her smile? What did I do that brought her joy?

Sucking helium and singing show tunes

The bald buddy head butts

Building her dresser together

 

Those are some of my thoughts, but what would hers be?

I don’t doubt they existed and likely overlap some written by her sisters. But I yearn to know what hers are and I never will. The missing ten will forever haunt me. Somewhere inside, I know what she would say…

a

 

Daddy, don’t you remember that time? That time we ____?

Yeah, I remember. That was fun but I haven’t done it in years.

Why not?

It just isn’t the same anymore. Nothing is the same.

It’s only a little while until we can do it together again.

A little while? Wait, do you know something? Am I going to die soon?

That’s kind of a dumb question. Everyone is going to die soon. The question is, are you going to live now? Stop crying over the missing ten and make fifty more.

 

I wish I could, baby. I wish I could…