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My father died at Christmas at age 51.

He was buried the day before Christmas Eve. I was 24. You can imagine what Christmas has been like for me ever since.

In 1984, I noticed empty pill bottles in my medicine chest dated in December for six years running. They were for antibiotics. I’d been getting sick at Christmas every year, trying to keep up a front of Christmas cheer while ignoring unresolved grief and pain.

I threw away the empty bottles. Then I began working of grieving. My father was a professional jazz trumpet player, so each Christmas I buy a little ornament- a trumpet, cornet, brass instrument- to honor him. Light a candle in his memory. Thank him for the gifts he gave me. Play jazz on my flute.

My mother said, “We can’t let Dad’s death ruin Christmas,” and she’s right. But we all heal at our own pace.

I still feel apprehensive about Christmas: “Oh no, not again.” As usual at Christmas, my heart is very full. But the balance in my heart between joy and pain is shifting. Now I can celebrate the warmth of human relationships instead of feeling only pain.

Photo: Dad and me at Lake Michigan. I was almost two years old.

LiterateHiker 9 Dec 12
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11 comments

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1

I grieved mine beforehand so that when he did die, it was not even a blip on the radar. Both parents were problems growing up, I won't be sad when my mom leaves either but it was years of grieving before all this.

1

That sounds like a wonderful father daughter relationship. You were very lucky. A good relationship like that at the outset, lights up a whole life.

@Fernapple

I had a love/hate relationship with my father. He was a critical alcoholic. He constantly put me down. Growing up, I tried and tried to get Dad's approval. Nothing worked.

He called my oldest sister Lynne "the smart one" and me "the pretty one." Lynne felt ugly and I felt dumb.

My joke was I got a master degree at 30 to prove to my dead father that I was smart.

When I was 35, Dad's sister flew to Seattle from Michigan for the annual Alcoholics Anonymous convention. We met in Seattle. Aunt Peggy convinced me it was not my fault.

"Your father was so critical of you- holding up your older sister as perfect- that it even affected my kids," she said. "Uncle John and I talked about how we were worried about you."

So I had years of therapy. Now I tend to get self-critical when I'm tired.

I learned when you acknowledge a negative inner tape, it loses its power. "There's Dad's not-good-enough message again," I think.

@LiterateHiker I understand. I had a similar relationship with my mother, though she was not alcholic, just a completely toxic person, who saw belittling others, not merely her son, as her main occupation in life. The one thing that I learned from her therefore, was just how destructive that can be, not just to those you attack but to your own life as well.

3

Holidays are hard for many of us. Thanks for sharing your personal story, so others can know they are not alone in these transitions during the holidays.

I find it's good to let people know when we have challenges this time of year. My parents have been gone for decades, but I'm still finding my way out of the dark, and getting better better year by year.

My dad died on Christmas morning, and my mom died December 26th, on a different year, which is also my son's birthday. Talk about mixed emotions during the holidays.

Last time I saw my mom was on Christmas Eve at a family gathering, 2 days before she died, and she was well and happy. Her sudden death was a shock to us all.

The last time I saw my dad was Winter Solstice, with my whole family who had gathered at the hospital for what we all knew might be the last time we saw him, and then we all spent the evening at my brother's house for a memorable music and dance filled celebration before my dad died a few days later.

My dad's birthday was sometimes on Thanksgiving. My mom's birthday was always the 4th of July, so we would all gather for a party and fireworks. On and on with various holidays associated with troubled ghosts of my past haunting me, causing interference with normal celebrations.

I don't really want to put the memories out of my mind, since they are part of me, so I do give some quiet time on those days to reflect on the past and also assess my progress with where I am today, given the losses and challenges overcome.

It's no surprise that I now celebrate the holiday season in the least traditional ways I can, in a tropical setting far away from my "white christmas" type childhood memories. Traditional expectations are too much for me, so I pretty much just check out and do my own thing.

Explaining this to those around me has helped me to cope with the feeling of inadequateness around the holidays where I wasn't able to do everything expected of me. The better I get at accepting this about myself, the less my depression is around the holidays.

The holidays are difficult for many of us who are grieving, whether grieving a healthy relationship, or one that was troubled and so grieving 'what might have been' in healthier surroundings.

It's easy to have mixed emotions on the anniversary of the birth or death of parents, especially if raised in a dysfunctional family. For me, it's liberating, in some ways, not to be kept under glass anymore, but in other ways, filled with anxiety for trying to reach my potential without those constricting parameters that were always there controlling me.

Now, I'm the only one I have to answer to, free reign over my own life and that creates a happiness within me, but also guilt for some unknown reason. Guilt was just built into me, I suppose from my Catholic upbringing, I don't know. I can't really explain why I feel this way, but my subconscious mind does what it wants. The more I accept it, the happier I become.

@Julie808

Thank you for your wonderful, insightful reply. You're right about grieving a dysfunctional relationship.

I had a love/hate relationship with my father. He was a critical alcoholic. He constantly put me down. Growing up, I tried and tried to get Dad's approval. Nothing worked.

He called my oldest sister Lynne "the smart one" and me "the pretty one." Lynne felt ugly and I felt dumb.

My joke was I got a master degree at 30 to prove to my dead father that I was smart.

When I was 35, Dad's sister flew to Seattle from Michigan for the annual Alcoholics Anonymous convention. We met in Seattle. Aunt Peggy convinced me it was not my fault.

"Your father was so critical of you- holding up your older sister as perfect- that it even affected my kids," she said. "Uncle John and I talked about how we were worried about you."

So I had years of therapy. Now I tend to get self-critical when I'm tired.

I learned when you acknowledge a negative inner tape, it loses its power. "There's Dad's not-good-enough message again," I think.

@LiterateHiker Yes, my siblings and I each had our "label" to subconsciously grow into. Everyone thought me to be the "dumb" one too. I like to think I was just a late bloomer in the education department and am more of deep thinker now than my siblings. I was also thought to be the "pretty" one, though that just meant that my dad sought me out for his sexual attention, rather than my sisters, which twistedly caused them to be jealous of me.

Just a whole lot of dysfunction in my childhood, which I hope I stopped the cycle in time and remedied most of it for my own children and those who come after.

It's good to honor a healthy goodbye to the past and enthusiastically welcome the future. Easy to do when all this comes to a head for me around the holidays and I can hit "refresh" in the new year. 🙂

1

We should do what we can to celebrate and ennoble each other's existence. Remember the good times.

1

You and dad must have been really close

twill Level 7 Dec 12, 2021

@twill

I had a love/hate relationship with my father. He was a critical alcoholic. He constantly put me down. Growing up, I tried and tried to get Dad's approval. Nothing worked.

He called my oldest sister Lynne "the smart one" and me "the pretty one." Lynne felt ugly and I felt dumb.

My joke was I got a master degree at 30 to prove to my dead father that I was smart.

When I was 35, my father's sister flew to Seattle from Michigan for the annual Alcoholics Anonymous convention. We met in Seattle. Aunt Peggy convinced me it was not my fault.

"You dad was so critical of you- holding up your older sister as perfect- that it even affected my kids," she said. "Uncle John and I talked about how we were worried about you."

So I had years of therapy. Now I tend to get self-critical when I'm tired.

I learned when you acknowledge a negative inner tape, it loses its power. "There's Dad's not-good-enough message again," I think.

@LiterateHiker I was wrong. I apologize.

Parents are tough. Some of this Bozo shit Show we are seeing play out in America is based on the "perfection" of the parents & them "knowing what's best". Where does that even come from ???

I had my own parental shit show growing up. It was 3 siblings against one ( me). Little support and no protection from my parents. How could they even? They were lost in their own problems, loveless marriage. And yes, lots of alcohol on Dad's part.

I grew up having to figure everything out for myself ( get a job, have kids & pray is not a Life Plan ).

1

Mine died at 51 as well. Not at Christmas though.

@Secretguy

You have my sympathy.

"My God, Jack has cancer," my mother realized, facing Dad over the tennis court. "He's losing weight and his abdomen is getting bigger." Mom was a registered nurse.

But Dad refused to go to the doctor. That Fall, he got a hernia moving the dock out of the lake.

"Mr. Miller, this hernia is the least of your problems," the doctor said. The next day, surgeons removed a cancerous tumor from his colon the size of a large honeydew melon. He tried chemotherapy and radiation to no avail.

Dad died six months after he was diagnosed.

@LiterateHiker As I remember the story (I was 10 at the time and also visiting my aunts) My dad was feeling lousy and went to see our doc at the local hospital. They checked him over and sent him home. He dropped dead on the way out the door.

1

That's a sweet picture. 🙂

3

The holiday will be a little different for me this year, mom passed away a couple of days ago, she was 94. Her health had been declining over the last few months I have a small family, all that's left will be 3 of us, my daughter, her husband, and myself. So instead of planning for the get together, I have been planning for a farewell. She had a box full of old photo albums so when we do get together, we will look through that as a remembrance. At least she went how she wanted, in her sleep. Fell asleep in her chair watching TV and never woke up.

Sounds like a meaningful way to celebrate her life.

3

One of the most poignant lines in the Xmas song book is, "through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow..,"

I guess together "in spirit" or memory at least.

3

Loss of a parent is always hard, and when it is around the holidays it is so much harder. It's even harder when the parent dies before "their time." When the parent is aged, it is easier to accept. When they die young and we're still young it is so much harder. My mom died at age 45, I was 14. Time does not heal all wounds, time just works to lessen the pain.

4

My dad died near Thanksgiving, I know how you feel

bobwjr Level 10 Dec 12, 2021
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