The Phases of Christmas


There are different phases of grief, it is a process. And this year, this Christmas is a big milestone as far as that process goes.  The first holidays without loved ones are especially hard.  This entry is very raw and very vulnerable.  Honestly it makes me a bit uncomfortable, but if you are going to be honest and pour your heart out, then do it with purpose.  I am not the first to be here and I will not be the last.This is the end of this year, the end of all the loss and the end of the sadness. So, here it is, for anyone who might be going through the same:

Phase 1
I woke up for the first time in my life to an empty, quiet house on Christmas morning. I’m still not sure how to feel about that. I walked around and my Christmas lights were beautiful, the Christmas tree was beautiful, but it was so quiet. There was no one in the kitchen making breakfast for hungry eyes. There was no one inspecting the gifts under the tree. There was no Christmas music playing, or the sound of quiet conversation and laughter as people who got up early tried to be quiet and considerate of people who were still sleeping.

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How lucky I was and have been, to have had so many wonderful Christmases filled with family. And how many people wake up on Christmas morning alone, like me that morning?
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All the sudden I felt so much love for my mother. Every year from the time she had her first child at 27, until the Christmas right before she passed away when she was 74, she made an amazing home where everyone wanted to come and have Christmas morning. I thought of all the years that I woke up, ready to have breakfast and rip open presents. I thought of when I was a child and my sister and I had the tradition of getting up at 5am to play Monopoly until 6, and then would sneak out to see what was in our stockings, and then gently, carefully put everything back in our stockings. We would go back to play Monopoly again until 7am (when Mom and Dad said we could wake them up).
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And I remember even after I’d grown up and moved away, making sure that I was home for Christmas, driving sometimes on Christmas Eve then wrapping all the gifts when I got in. Most of the time Mom’s gifts had already been wrapped as she would have bought them months earlier. When I was young and broke, I could afford the gifts but not always the wrapping paper and accessories. So I would wait until I got home to raid Mom’s impressive wrapping paper, ribbon and bow collection.
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And wrapping was an art in our family. It wasn’t just wrapping a simple gift, no, it was trying to be mischievous and fool the receiver. A small box would be wrapped and then placed in a larger box and wrapped and placed in another larger box and wrapped again. There would be candy and buttons and things that make noise that would be placed in a box that held a book, so that when the gift with shaken, they would never know that it was just a book.
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For many years I was The unofficial photographer of Christmas morning. When everyone got up and started to unwrap the gifts. it was I who would capture it all. All the wonder, and happiness, and family togetherness, and laughter, and surprise, and delight, and love of Christmas morning.
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I wonder if my wonderful, sweet, brave mother ever spent a Christmas morning alone? If she had ever woken up on Christmas morning to an empty house? She came from a large family and so did Dad, so did she ever have that experience? She was married at 26, had children by 27. And did Dad ever wake up and spend a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day alone? It’s amazing how many questions you think of to ask your parents after they’re gone. Ask them now. I am acutely aware that they are gone. And I miss them so very much.
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I’m blessed to have friends who have become my family with whom to spend Christmas dinner. And even more who have extended wonderful invitations. Life is a balance of appreciating what is gone and accepting and being thankful for what is now.
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Phase 2
As I’m getting ready and going around the house, the memory of Last Christmas Creeps in. I was so sad and depressed… it was awful. I showered my Dad with as many gifts as I could possibly afford, getting him everything from new shoes to funny things for his cell phone, to clothes, to socks to everything I could possibly think of. I was trying desperately to make up for the fact that he was so miserable without Mom. I thought that maybe if I gave him enough gifts that he liked, I could make him smile an forget that he was miserable, if only for a second.
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I buzzed around smiling and being Jolly, but I think he knew. And I remember my ex, who was so completely disinterested, but who tried to pretend anyway. Looking back he was always on his cell phone, now I know it was talking with strippers and prostitutes even then. I lavished him with gifts too, trying to bury the guilt of having involved him in my ordeal of Mom dying and then having to live with my terminally ill father.
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I bought him a huge Craftsman tool box among other expensive things. Looking back I was trying to fill the terrible hold that grief had left inside of me by trying to make those in my life happy.  And trying to make up for the fact that life had imploded with death and being a full time caregiver. I thought that if I could give enough gifts, make enough people smile, try to make enough people happy, then maybe I could forget my grief for just a little while too. It didn’t work.
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And last year, after a delicious Christmas dinner, it was time to take Dad back to the rehab center. I picked him up that morning and had to have him back before midnight that night. It was miserable too because he wanted more than anything to just be home. It was heartbreaking to leave him there Christmas night. And even more heartbreaking to go back exhausted to the empty, loveless house that I called home.
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And that is why I even if I have sad moments now this Christmas, even when I shed tears and miss my parents so very much, I’m incredibly thankful that no Christmas will be as horrible as last year – hands down the worst holidays of my life. It is why I face this Christmas with an open heart and understand that there will be some heartbreak and that’s okay. Because last Christmas was the most heartbreaking Christmas of all, and I’m glad for all the opportunities for joy this year has given me. And I’m thankful for what the next year seems to hold. There’s been a lot of lost this year, but I’m still here. I still have the ability to love and to trust and to believe in people. And that in itself is a huge gift wrapped in a big bow.
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Phase 3
I realized that I had the hang of this. That I could do this. The Yule Log was playing with a pretty fire and Christmas music. The cats were running around with new toys. I heard from many family members and friends exchanging Christmas and holiday wishes. I was feeling lots of love. It still felt really weird and surreal as I looked at pictures of Mom and Dad and thought of Christmas in my childhood.
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Phase 4
Christmas dinner with at a friend’s house. There was rushing around to get everything  done and on the table at the same time.  There were people who loved me and who wanted me there.  And that felt really good.  It hurts to have my parents gone.  But I have found my roots, my family of choice.
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There is validation and vindication at the same time. It feels good to be back, to have made it through this huge emotional time.  It feels good to have it done, because I feared the unknown of the holidays.  I have lost both parents, three siblings, one boyfriend and all of his family in the past 18 months. And now I have gone through the first Christmas without any of them. And I made it. If I made it through the past 18 months, I can make it through anything.
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There is nothing more to dread. No more dates of the unknown, no more huge emotional triggers or timeframes.  New Years will be pretty easy – a celebration of saying goodbye to the bad, and saying hello to the wonderful happiness that is coming. I shed the skin of what has been and step into what will be.
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Then the next moment is the first anniversary for Dad.  But since I have been through it with mom, I know what to expect.  That anniversary won’t be easy, but ti also won’t be the unknown.  I know what I am facing, head on. And I have the love of my friends and that love will build this life strong and good and lasting.
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Phase 5
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I did it. I made it through Christmas without you.

There were some tough and lonely moments, but I am blessed to have amazing friends that got me through. There was also joy and celebration. You guys raised me strong and loved me enough for a lifetime, but it doesn’t make making a life without you any easier. But I will be OK.  I love you Mom and Dad. For so many wonderful things, for so many reasons and for so many wonderful holiday traditions and memories. Most of all, I love you for being the most amazing parents in the whole world. Merry Christmas. Love and miss you always.

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