It's not that you don't miss the dead every other day of the year. Of course you do. Any random day can bring a wave of memories that debilitate you. But the holidays cause a unique kind of pain. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and the other diverse holidays that occur around the winter season, emphasize family and togetherness. For many of us, these holidays are the only time of the year we actually see most of our family members. I have vivid memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases spent at my grandmother's house. At the time, I loathed them because of my shyness and my tendency to want to be alone, but, looking back, I appreciate them more. Now that my grandmother is dead, I no longer see my extended family. All I have left are those memories.
The holidays can often feel very hollow when you're a child who has lost a parent. All you feel is emptiness and absence. When you go out, you notice families together, you see other children with their parents and it only reminds you of all that you have lost.
My mother and I struggled through the first Christmas without my father. We decided to create a new tradition. So we ended up going to a movie theater together. The film took our minds off the pain. Now that my mom is re-married, we've created new traditions with my stepfather too. Whereas we used to open presents on Christmas day with my dad, now we open them Christmas Eve. It might seem like a small thing, but I think it's important to acknowledge that some rituals that we had with the dead cannot and should not be replicated. It would not feel right to do the same exact things we did with my father. Instead, to cope with his absence during the holidays, we've constructed new customs that root us in the present.
After losing so many people at such an early age, I think I appreciate the holidays more. Yes, they cause a great deal of anguish and grief. Yes, I get depressed and long for my father. But, at the same time, I am so grateful to have my mother, to spend time with her, and create more memories. Just tonight, on the spur of the moment, she and I went for a drive around our small town to look at all the Christmas lights. We were still in our pajamas, our hair was uncombed, but we didn't care. We became kids again, our eyes wide and in awe as we gazed at homes dripping with icicle lights and surrounded by glowing red candy canes, dazzlingly life-like mechanical reindeer, bright blow-up dolls of santa and snowmen, glittering snowflake ornaments hanging in dogwood trees. A winter wonderland. The stars were out, the weather was warmer than usual, the country roads were dark and lead us to the magic of Christmas and then back home again. We laughed together. We were happy despite, or perhaps because, of everything we have lost and suffered and survived. Love was there. Daddy was even there in spirit through memories we shared about him.
The holidays hurt because, at a time when you should show appreciation for what you have, you can't help but think of all the people you've lost. And that's okay--to feel that hurt, that ache, that grief. Sometimes, you'll turn away from the people you love most, the ones who need you because of their own pain. I'm not always the daughter I want to be. I withdraw and hide away when the devastation is too overwhelming and unmanageable. I'm not always there. I'm not always strong. But, somehow, I find my way back to what really matters--my mother, our life together, our indestructible connection. She makes the holidays hurt a bit less, and I can only hope that I do the same for her.