The holiday season is upon us! Snow, cozy blankets, Christmas movies, comfort food and lights- I absolutely LOVE the holidays. Or…at least, I used to.
My birthday happened to fall on Thanksgiving day this year so it was a bit of a double whammy for me. Normally on Thanksgiving Day, we’d stay in our pajamas all day and stream The Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade and eat the cinnamon rolls I’d make for breakfast. I’d put out veggie, and meat and cheese trays and we’d snack while playing board games and each other’s company. Then, after dinner, we’d pile on the couch together with pie and icecream and watch a movie. This year will be much different.
As if Thanksgiving wasn’t going to be bad enough, the “anniversary” of Sean’s death (I hate calling it an ‘anniversary’) is two days before Christmas. Not just a day, but an entire season that was once full of excitement, magic and joy is now tainted with memories I wish I could forget. I suppose I “technically” already survived my first Christmas without Sean but it doesn’t truly feel that way because I was still in shock. I honestly think I’m clinging to “survival mode”, meaning that I’m not allowing myself to acknowledge and face my grief and loss. I’m just going through the motions to get through the day. I don’t know when/if I’ll ever stop, after all, I’ve got a grieving child and an infant to care for, a house to maintain, ect…I don’t exactly have room on my agenda to pencil in a mental breakdown.
The day after Thanksgiving, we’d always put up the tree together as a family. It was Luke’s job to put on the star at the end. Sean would lift him up and he loved that. Sean had these commemorative train ornaments from the Hallmark store that he got from his grandmother, Kathy. It was always Sean’s job to put them on,and of course Luke got to help- but now Luke gets to do all of the trains.
Luke and I would bake cookies (and Sean would eat them) and finally on Christmas Eve night we’d watch the Polar Express together as a family and eat cookies with milk. Then, Luke would pick out cookies and milk for Santa and eagerly get to bed. Sean and I would stuff the stockings and put gifts under the tree and peak in on Luke before cuddling up on the couch and just sitting in the quiet darkness looking at the tree lights.
Last Christmas Eve started with a 6:30 a.m. phone call from UT Southwestern asking if I would like to donate Sean’s organ and then proceeded interviewed me for fifteen minutes regarding very personal details of Sean’s health, medical and sexual history.
It was spent calling Sean’s friends and family to tell them he was dead.
It was spent worrying about funeral arrangements, what to do with his car and so on. Christmas Eve night I was in the shower when my mom knocked on the bathroom door to tell me Luke had lost a tooth. I just sobbed. The gas stations with the ATM’s inside were closed, And the last thing I wanted to do was play the tooth fairy and Santa the day after my husband died. Thankfully my mom had a dollar to give Luke and she helped stuff stockings and place gifts under the tree.
Christmas day came just like any other day. It was no longer special or exciting- filled with anticipation of what surprises might be inside those beautifully wrapped boxes. Luke unwrapped each gift with equal excitement- children are so resilient,
I envy that about them. Meanwhile I sat curled up on the couch and feigned interest and happiness as Luke showed me his gifts. The following week was a blur, my memory flashed images of my mom and I cleaning out his closet and night stand. Going through mail. Throwing up on the phone mid conversation with the funeral director. Crying so loudly I woke Luke up. Climbing up into his top bunk and talking to him about his dad dying.
Sean worked a lot around death- he did military funeral honors for five years and worked for Lynch and Son’s Funeral Home in Milford which he loved. Being around death so much, Sean wasn’t squemish about it and talking about it didn’t make him uncomfortable. He once told me “Everthing that lives- plants, animals and people- has to die…sometimes death just comes a lot sooner than we think, than we want it to”. I never thought I’d repeat Sean’s own words to Luke on Christmas day to explain his daddy’s death.