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.
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.
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.
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.