BABY-STEPPING BACK TO THE HOLIDAYS
Anyone who has ever lost a loved one at holiday time should read this. Yes, parts of it are a tad depressing, but it brings a message of hope. And, with so many recent losses, there are, unfortunately, many people who need to read this.
It hit me on Christmas morning, the fifth anniversary of losing my precious mother, as I was getting out of bed. I wasn’t jumping out of bed with excitement for the upcoming day; rather, I was just getting up to have my usual breakfast of cereal and fruit. But I noticed that I put the yule log on television, just to make the morning a drop special this year. And that one tiny move gave me hope.
A few minutes earlier, while still in bed, I opened my iPad to Facebook. The very first thing that popped up on that page was a notice of my “Memories on Facebook.” All of mine are the links to my week-daily columns here on ItsNotAboutMe.TV, but this particular one was a link to one I wrote on a past December 25. I couldn’t believe that I had ever even posted an article on an actual Christmas Day, (because I never publish on the day of a holiday,) but four years ago, my column was to commemorate that it had been a year since my beloved little mother had died…on Christmas Day! While Mr. X and I were visiting her. And I was making Christmas dinner, and expecting a lovely day for my mother, with family and friends. She had never had a real Christmas before, (because my family is Jewish, and Mr. X and I had always celebrated at our home in Los Angeles,) so we were all looking forward to it. (You can read all the gory details elsewhere in this e-zine, but now I have to bring the room up a little.)
So, five years ago, in the blink of an eye, Mr. X and I went from being the biggest Christmas celebrants ever to “Bah Humbug” people. I had loved this day since I began celebrating it as a teen-ager, (once I moved out on my own,) to someone who could not even bear the pain of just hearing the word. I began to dread the holidays.
When the next Christmas approached, I went into a terrible depression. I didn’t know what to do for us. I didn’t want to spoil it for Mr. X, but, luckily, he felt the same way. (He and my mother were thick as thieves; she always referred to him as her “favorite relative.” And she was his biggest fan. He was as crushed as I was when she passed.)
So, that first year, we had no tree (of course,) and there was nary a decoration in sight. All of my precious little holiday tchotchkes stayed put in their closet. I sent no cards, and couldn’t even bring myself to buy gifts for all my business people, for whom I had been happily making gifts bags for years! That had been my favorite activity all year, every year. I now panicked thinking about Christmas dinner, because I had always made it for just Mr. X and me. People had long stopped inviting us to join them, knowing by then that we liked to stay home alone, and eschew the rest of the world.
And then, the Christmas Miracle of 2012 happened, which became our first baby step back to the holidays. Our wonderful friends, Fred and Jim, invited us to their dinner! And it was beyond perfect. Besides that we had someplace to go that day, (so that we weren’t alone with our depressing thoughts of that day the year earlier,) their fete was decidedly not Christmas-y at all, which was just perfect for us. They did have a lightly-decorated tree in one corner, but it was not at all bright. And the whole place was dimly-lit, in an elegant way, which was so far from the way we had always done it. The best part is that the dinner was not turkey and stuffing! It was classy fare, like black cod and rack of lamb. There was nothing on the plate for me to cry into! It was just a lovely dinner party, which didn’t remind me of Christmas, and my mother, on any level. It was perfect.
And then, thankfully, the dreaded anniversary had passed. And we could move on from there.
For the next three years, going to Fred and Jim’s, (and having nothing holiday-esque in our own house, decoration- or gift-wise,) became our new tradition. We were both still miserable every December 25, but it became a nano-tad easier. I did break down in 2014 and purchase one small Winnie The Pooh ornament, but I didn’t even remove it from the box. (Baby steps.) I put it on a counter, near a picture of my mother that I always talk to, because she would have loved this cutie, too. [Note: A couple of months after I lost my mother, a psychic told me that she said for me to talk to her photo, which I already was doing, and still do today.]
Last year, 2015, our pal, Curtis, brought us an official Charlie Brown tree. (A commercial one—not a real one from a lot.) We already had two of them—ours that we had bought a few years before, and the one we had given to my mother in Brooklyn, which was, very sadly, now mine. But we hadn’t been able to bring ourselves to put them out. Since this new one was a gift, I figured what the heck, and we set it up in a corner of the living room, near the above-mentioned picture of my mother. Nobody loved A Charlie Brown Christmas more than May Rose Salkin!!! And this new one even played the theme music. I knew she was in proverbial heaven over this new addition to the living room. (She was already in real Heaven.)
Then, just by coincidence, my friend, Alice, bought us a delicate little set of tiny lights, which I just left near the tree, not on it. (As I said—baby steps.) And Carol in Colorado sent us a little snow globe, which I set out near our new display. And that was it for last year.
So, now here we are in 2016, and all the same conditions applied. Only this time, we actually put those tiny lights on the tree. And added to the petite display a bit, whenever a kind pal contributed to it, even with just a holiday card.
The next baby step came with my Media Night visit to Chill at the Queen Mary. One of the activities there was decorating a stocking, and I must admit that I really got into it. Mine is really beautiful! (But I chose a blue one, rather than green or red—baby steps.) I had also received a tiny blue stocking when I arrived, which contained my tickets for the evening. So, a couple of days later, I could not resist displaying those two, just so that I could tell Mr. X that mine was the big gorgeous one, and his was, as my mother would have called it, the little weeny one! For that purpose, I had to put up our tiny Haitian rendition of a Christmas tree. (It’s flat and made of metal, and hangs on the wall.) It had remained hidden away in the same place for many years, but was now missing. That search for it was yet another baby step. (But Mr. X and I agreed that the stockings would stay empty, because we could still not bear to do gifts yet.)
Then we gradually added holiday music into the mix. I still felt a tad guilty, belting out tunes like Jingle Bell Rock, but I could hear my mother saying, “Stop being so crazy, Karen! I love that music.”
As I mentioned, for most of the years that Mr. X and I have been together, I cooked Christmas dinner for just the two of us. (And Clarence, too, of course, until he was no longer with us in 2010.) And that was just the way we liked it. But, because I was doing that exact activity in Brooklyn five years ago when my mother got sick, and then left this level of life, I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it since then. But this year, Fred and Jim, the founders of our feast for the past four years, were out of town! And nobody else we know does anything for Christmas! We were forced to be alone now, which had always been our choice, but now I was dreading it! I could not bear to cook that meal, and Mr. X absolutely hates going out, especially on Christmas Day! All month long, I kept begging him to help me figure it out. I didn’t want to be caught in a bad depression that day, and needed to make a plan. But we could not come up with anything reasonable.
Finally, on the 24th, he suggested that we just have Chinese food, as many others of my ethnicity traditionally do on Christmas. (And as the family in A Christmas Story does when a dog eats the meal they had cooked.) But he wanted to have it delivered, as opposed to going out for it, which just would not have been the same. So, we were still somewhat in a quandary as to what to do the next day to avoid the expected pain.
Then, that evening, I realized that we had not yet gotten a memorial candle for my mother! (It’s what my people do to commemorate the death of a loved one.) So, it was over to the supermarket for us. (And I bumped into a fun old pal there, so it was already a winning day for me!) While we were there, I realized there’s a vegetable dish I began making last fall, when I needed to start cooking (for my health,) and it involved cranberries, so I had better get some right then, before they run out after the holiday. After that, we innocently walked over to the service deli, and lo and behold, there were perfect-sized chunks of freshly-cooked turkey! So, we decided what the heck, and purchased that, too, on spec. Some yams and corn later, (I already had stuffing, potatoes, gravy, marshmallows, and nuts at home,) and voila–we had built a proper Christmas dinner, Stone Soup-style! [Note: That’s one of my favorite children’s books. If you don’t know the story, you really should look it up.]
I still didn’t know if I would cook any of it the next day, mind you, but at least it was comforting to know it was all there, if we needed it. (And the baby step of going shopping for the holiday fare was out of the way.)
I spent this past October on the east coast, and had bought some little “ in general” gifts for Mr. X. But, because I’m the world’s worst un-packer, I still had not given them to him as late as mid-December! In the back of mind, I had thought they would make good little Christmas presents for him, even though I knew we didn’t do that kind of thing anymore.
And then, a couple of nights before the 25th, I told him I had them for him, and before I could even ask if he wanted them right then, he said, “I have a few for you, too.” So, after several minutes of “should we”s, we decided to give them to each other on Christmas Day. But this was not even close to our old ritual, of giving each other about fifty gifts, with gorgeous, fun wrapping, sitting on a Father Christmas blanket under the tree, snacking on popcorn and sparkling cider. And getting up at 5AM to get it all done by 10AM! No, this was a couple of already-owned gift bags, a piece of colored tissue paper here and there, and just sitting on the couch, by a tiny table, at about noon. Bing, bang, boom, and it was over. Easy breezy. It was exactly perfect. We would’t have wanted anything more, and these few “baby step” gifts were successful. It was such a relief. (And I know my mother would have approved. She wasn’t torturing me—I was!)
We eased the pain by watching holiday movies all day, which was the perfect mindless activity. (Well, not really so mindless—Mr. X knows every word of the definitive version of A Christmas Carol—the one that stars Alastair Sim—by heart! And he performs each role with equal gusto. Luckily for us, there was finally a marathon of that classic film this year!) And while doing so, I found myself getting off the couch, and preparing the dinner, with no thought process behind it, nor pain. Just happily working to give Mr. X a good home-cooked (in parts) meal.
And it was delicious, if I do say so myself! Just what the (mental) doctor ordered! (Well, he would have, if we had one!)
The whole dreaded week-end worked out so well for us that we both said that maybe next year, we’d do a little bit more in every category. It will be six years since we lost Maybelle, and if this entire month has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t count on anything in life—you have to seize the day.
But, even always knowing that, we could not have gotten to the better place we’re in now had we not taken baby steps along the way. For any of you who are in the same position that we are, (losing a loved one not only on Christmas, but on any holiday,) only newer at it, it will get better. Just allow yourself the time, and then join us in Baby-Stepping Back to the Holidays!
Great, no EXCELLENT column Karen. I need to start talking to the many photos of my mom that I have around.
My mom and your mom… Now I remember that lunch at the restaurant on Ave. M, with all of us! and then there was the Deli in Sheepshead Bay… O and surely other times, too. I even remember the trauma you experienced losing her, as it was the same year I lost my mother. We are orphans who had amazing moms…
She is smiling from above. I remember her so well, her voice, her tone, her mannerisms. Yes Babysteps are the secret sauce of recovering from a loss… We have not even recovered from our the loss of our 13 day old first grandchild. Life can be rough sometimes. It is the survivors who learn to cope with babysteps. Love my BFF: YOU, Jilly Poo!
Love you always, my Jilly Poo!!!
Beautiful thoughts from my favorite sometimes redhead, sometimes brunette
Thanks for the compliments, Curtis! Both of them! (And let’s just settle on “auburn.”)