I have almost survived my second Christmas without Brian. If you asked me if it were "easier" this year, I would tell you that's the wrong adjective to describe it. No, it wasn't easier and I suspect that it never will be. It was, however, different. Different in part because in some ways I felt his absence more acutely, becoming even more aware of the fact that his dying has changed so much in my life, especially at this time of year. I keep coming back to a piece written in 2017 by John Pavlovitz after the death of his father. It is aptly entitled, "Grief: The Uninvited Holiday Guest." In it the author talks about how he just wants grief to leave him alone for the season so that he can find, as he says, " . . . those tidings of comfort and joy that I'm supposedly entitled to but never seem to get my arms around. I want Grief to leave." And that is exactly where I found myself this Christmas --just wanting Grief to leave and let me celebrate Christmas, which of course, it didn't do. So I focused the rest of my day around the remainder of what the article had to say about this uninvited guest;
“But then I realize that he hasn’t come here uninvited to do me damage. He’s come here to surprise me with a gift that I hadn’t asked for, wouldn’t say I wanted — but so desperately need.
The gift Grief gives me is this terrible, painful bitter sweetness that reminds me just how well loved I was by my father to be feeling such sadness now. This heartbreak is a monument, these tears a tribute.
That’s why Grief is here. He is the tax on loving people, and the fact that I am feeling such a deficit in his presence is a celebration of how blessed I’ve been to have someone to grieve so fully over.
Grief is here right now to give me the gift of feeling it all again freshly, so that I never forget how beautiful those holidays were, how easy gratitude was, how effortless singing a song of joy could be.”John Pavlovitz, November 21, 2017
And so, when I woke up this morning and saw Grief sitting at the foot of my bed, most, if not all, of my resolve to make this Christmas "work", went out the window. Then I remembered a letter Brian wrote to me long ago when we were dating. He was trying to, as he put it, "do Christmas on a shoestring" He wrote: On "Celebrate the Hell Out of Christmas . .. " One time I made decorations for the (self-cut-from-the-forest-$5) tree with old package bows and ribbons. And Christmas dinner when my son picks the menu is cheap -- hot dogs and creamed corn. Plus the free concerts at Christmas are kind of hidden, but they're there. So, see, "Celebrate the Hell Out of Christmas for a dollar a day." I'm not sure I was quite able to "Celebrate the Hell Out of Christmas" this year, but that quote and the following letter from him on December 13, that same year reminded me how beautiful those holidays were. So I share it with you, hoping that your fond memories of your loved one at Christmas and the joy those bring can help you through this emotionally taxing season as well. Dear Julie, I could have used one of your wake-up calls today as it turns out. I was semi-comatose between about 11 and 12, but never really made it to dreamland. There was a hospital emergency between 8:30 and 10:30 this morning, then I came home and got semi-comatose, then I paid bills. I didn't make it Bruegger's either, but I did get to Country Kitchen. How are you, babe? I'm so glad to hear you are having some up days at work. You put in so many long hours and pounds of energy, you deserve to be rewarded. And your "stay-at-home cinnamon and lace" weekend sounds fabulous. Wish I could have laid by your fire and smiled at you like a Cheshire cat all weekend. I'd love it if we all did a dinner at your house on the 26th. I'll bring you my table, which, with leaves is as big as Don & Ruth's. I love you, Christmas lady. Your gift? My heart. Brian So today, when I woke up and my first thought was of him not being with me again . . . or ever . . . I wrote the following:
Dear Brian, Sometimes I don't have words to say, and that's the case this Christmas Day. I wrote this poem to let you know, that on this day I miss you so. Christmas (Again) Without You Another Christmas Day without you. Presents wait beneath my tree. But the gift I want I cannot have -- You being here with me. I know that you are singing with the angel choir above, free from the trials of this world and basking in God's love. And if you could come and talk to me I know just what you'd say. You'd tell me to be happy here, that we'll meet again one day. And so, this year my gift to you is to keep on going on, fully living the life ahead, even though you are now gone. It will be hard sometimes, I know, but still, I'll do my best to live a life that honors you, trusting God to do the rest. Merry Christmas in Heaven, Brian. You are always with me in my heart.