By special request, I am including a post or two on the blog rather than podcasts only. Today’s topic is a bit emotional, anyway, so writing may be best.
Podcasts one (on Giving Tuesday) and two (on holiday food traditions) are up on Patreon. Normally, my Patreon posts are only open to subscribers. For Advent Calendar, though, the podcasts will be available to everyone. (Story posts, however, will still be for subscribers only.)
Today, as is a yearly tradition, is a day called Blue Christmas. It’s a time once a year to remember loved ones who are no longer with us. We’ve had guest posts talk about loss of parents and other dear ones, but I never imagined that Blue Christmas might mean remembering my dad.
This year, I’m fortunate enough to spend holidays abroad. Putting physical distance between me and everything I’ve known seemed like a good idea, even if the focus is (supposed to be) on getting work and research done. I have a major writing project due, oh, two years ago, and I’d hoped to get it done. Getting sick and adjusted to a new time zone didn’t help, and mostly I feel lazy. Beyond cooking and basic daily life activities, I haven’t done much.
As we get closer to the holidays, though, I find myself surrounded by the presence of my father’s absence. When I see other dads with their daughters, it makes me think of mine. When I hear familiar Christmas music or see Christmas reminders, it brings my dad so close that I swear I can feel him. Hear his laugh. See the twinkle in his eye and groan at his terrible, awful, horrible humor.
It’s been most of a year since my dad died (many of you were there for me during the process), but the loss hits fresh each and every day. Sometimes it mellows into a dream of remembering, and I wake up feeling surrounded with love. Other times, it’s an unexpected chasm in front of me, yawning open with the realization that today, tomorrow, and a thousand million tomorrows I will wake up a fatherless daughter. I’ll never get to have my father alive again. I’ll never get to see his smile, or feel his arms around me, or hear him announce to the people nearest by that I am his daughter.
My dad had only one sibling, a younger brother. They look quite similar, except my uncle has a mustache and Dad shaved every day of his adult life. Due to complicated family circumstances, I only saw my uncle (and his family) once or twice a year as a child and almost never as an adult. When I went to my parents’ house after we left behind my dad’s body in Mayo, his brother and sister-in-law waited with open arms and an enormous box filled with food and necessities to get us through the first few days.
I knew, instinctively, (I think we all do) how to grieve at first. Our bodies know what they need to do, and they shut down. They force us to focus on the trauma and loss, and they make everything else impossible.
Eight months later, I no longer feel like vomiting at the sight of food. I can sleep at night, and I’ve returned to work. I’ve even started writing again, which in the first days seemed an impossibility. I’ve never returned to full productivity, and some parts of my life may never find “normal” again. But on the whole, I’ve found a new normal. A new way of living.
Except for the holidays. I’ve discovered that my commitment to Blue Christmas and creating a safe space amidst holiday noise is much easier when I create that space for other people. For myself, I don’t know where to start.
How do we find a space to grieve, but to make new joy?
How do we hold onto the love and memories while grappling with the lifelong ramifications of complicated, screwed-up families that commit unforgivable sins against its own members?
How do we live and love while losing and limping?
How do we celebrate, yes celebrate, when our hearts feel as if they will implode from the combined weight of painful memories, a shattered future, and a present full of uncertainty?
Some days, I’d like to wrap myself in a sweet-smelling, freshly laundered quilt and disappear into a ten-year hibernation. I’d like to wake up when the grief has receded, and I want the hurt to go away. I’ve never shied from grief, but I’ve never known it to this degree.
I have lost the man who raised me, helped to name me, and set me on life’s path as a tiny child.
I have lost the hope of family Christmases together, of making new memories, and finding healing as age mellows the sharp-edged miscommunications of youth and young adulthood.
Meanwhile, I’ve got a border collie nudging at me for attention and food, a lovely host urging me to go to the park, and fresh banana bread cooling on the kitchen counter. An uncompromising lump of what should have been bread dough, but either the yeast died or the 18-month-expired flour went on strike. I blame the latter. 🙂
I don’t have any answers for you today, and I suspect that you don’t have them for me, either. What is loss, after all, if not an inherent part of growing up and growing old? If we can’t learn to grapple with loss, we can’t live. Simple as that.
Except it’s one thing to read and theorize about grief, and it’s another to wrestle with it every day.
Dad, I miss you. I’d give anything to have one last conversation with you. One last hug, one last ridiculous joke, one last smile.
Love you, Dad.
And love to everyone else who is grieving a loss this year.