A Different Kind of Christmas

Originally, I had an idea for this blog post to write about something very festive since Christmas is now only three weeks away. However, it just didn’t come together, and I almost decided it was just not meant to be a blog post writing day after all. And then I stumbled upon a Christmas song I didn’t expect to find. It is on the YouTube video at the bottom of this blog post titled, Different Kind of Christmas,” by Mark Schultz, a contemporary Christian music artist. In Mark’s case, the song was written about his father-in-law who had passed away, and he and his wife were experiencing their first Christmas without him.

At some point in time, we all lose a loved one–parent, grandparent, sibling, spouse, a child, other close relatives, a best friend, and anyone who took up a significant part of our heart while they were alive. This year, along with my two brothers and their families, we lost our last parent–our Dad, and Grandpa to my niece and nephews, in June when he died a month shy of his 96th birthday. We were fortunate to have him around for so long. Our mother passed away almost 37 years ago at the age of 54, and our stepmother passed away at 86 in 2011.

In an article titled, Surviving Your First Christmas After the Death of Your Last Parent,” by Kara Jane, a born and raised Texan who blames my sweet Dad for my heavy Texas accent,” and loves cake and writing on her blog (to include cake recipes), IScreamforButterCream.com,” she writes:

My last parent passed away this year. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the holidays coming up. Now, I will tell you that I am not one to wear and/or show all my emotions on my sleeve. I’m also not one to get all depressed about the fact my parents won’t be around when holidays or birthdays roll around… until now. What’s the difference? Well, losing that last parent.

Thirteen years ago, my mother died of an aneurysm. I was twenty-seven years old…now you can do the math to see how old I am now ;). I had just bought a house entirely on my own and she was just about as proud as a person could be. We talked every day.

Now, we didn’t get along 100% of the time, but who does really. My son was seven at the time and while it was very hard for me, it was particularly hard on him.

I have heard before that you never really get over a parent’s death. I agree with that, but only partly. As the years go by, the sting of it lessons. When she first died, I would remember first thing in the morning when I woke up. We used to talk on the phone while I was on my way home from work almost every day, so that was the time of day that was the hardest. I’d suck it up all day at work and then I would cry on my way home every day.

I did that for almost two weeks, and then some days came when I didn’t cry on my way home. And then I could go for a week and not cry. Time is the medicine. I don’t like clichés and the ‘time heals all wounds’ is one I particularly dislike. Although it is true, to a point, the truer statement would be that time lessons the sting of wounds. That’s what I have found.

I won’t say I think about my mom every day. I hear people say things like, “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.” In all honesty, that’s just not true for me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love her. It just means I’ve healed… for the most part anyway. I also don’t think we need to feel guilty about NOT thinking about that person every day. Honestly, I don’t think that’s very healthy to dwell on every single day.

Fast forward to this year. In February, my Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given two weeks to live. He lived one extra week, just to show them who was boss.

Now, having lost one parent already, I knew what I was up against… the difficulty with making daily decisions, the anger and agitation at just little things and the need to be alone yet everyone wanting to ‘be there’ for me. I seriously misjudged how much more difficult it would be to lose my last parent.

If you’ve gone through this, you’ll know what I mean. I had wonderful parents and a wonderful childhood. My parents were my rock… my safety net. Parents are the two people who will love you unconditionally. Yes, I know your child will love you and your spouse will love you, but I’m sorry, it’s just not the same. I know my husband loves me and we took our vows seriously, but his love for me, or mine for him, is not the same kind of unconditional love as a parent’s love.

Not having a parent living in this world with you is like walking a tightrope and there’s no net. Now, I don’t mean a safety net in terms of finances or housing. I mean a safety net as having those two people who will always have your back. Even though you have friends and other family members, it is a feeling of being completely alone. It’s final. I’m it now.

If you are feeling this now, I want you to know that you are not alone. I am right there with ya.

Christmas wreaths on Veterans’ graves 11-28-19

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the holidays and I know there are times it’s going to get to me. Now, I will tell you that I do not like to show vulnerability to people. Words and writing are fine, but I make a point not to cry in front of people if I can help it. There is nothing my husband, nor anyone else, can do for me to take that pain away and I don’t like looking vulnerable in front of people. Maybe I’m weird, but to each his own, right?

I was thinking the other day about how every holiday season, my husband and I have to coordinate events between both of our families and his kids’ mom. It dawned on me that I have no one to coordinate with this year. It sort of makes you feel like your side of the family has just been wiped off the face of the earth. I guess that’s exactly what happened.

So, knowing what was coming up, I sat down to come up with some strategies to help myself this holiday season. I’m a planner and I guess it makes me feel better to try to plan out a strategy for dealing with things.

I wanted to share these strategies with you in the hopes that if you are dealing with something similar, it may help you too… or at the very least, keep you from feeling like you’re alone in this.

1. Replace the sad memories with happy ones:

The death of my Dad is still pretty raw. I sat with him as he died and at times, that comes back to me. When it does, I immediately try to think of something else. That probably isn’t the healthiest way to deal with it, I know, but I also don’t want to torture myself. So, I’ve decided when those memories of sitting with him while he was passing show up, instead of thinking about something completely different, I’m going to make an effort to remember something fun and meaningful we did together.

Maybe the times he let us ride on the tractor with him, or when he taught me to swim or to ride a bike. I’m going to make a real effort to replace the memory of his death, with good and happy memories. I want you to try it too. Replace whatever that memory is that’s making you uncomfortable. Replace it with a happy time. I’m not saying that will take away the sadness. On the contrary, it may make you miss them more, but here’s the thing… you’ll be remembering them the way they’d want you to remember them.

2. Stop with the guilt:

No, I’m not talking about feeling guilty over things you did or things you didn’t do when that person was alive. That is something that cannot be changed and if you are doing that to yourself, stop it… you are just torturing yourself. No, what I mean is stop feeling guilty over how long you’ve been grieving. I don’t mention it that much to people because, well, people feel the need to insert their opinions about it, whether or not they have any idea what it feels like. I don’t want to hear from people, well it’s been 6 months, or it’s been almost a year, so…  They leave the end of the sentence hanging because they don’t want to say to you, it’s been enough time now.  What they don’t understand is that it isn’t like you’re sad all the time, or in a state of utter depression. The grief just kind of comes and goes.

My advice to you, and to myself, is to not feel guilty if you still have trouble with it at times. That’s not weird or abnormal and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t feel guilty if you aren’t a crying mess. Sometimes people handle it differently. There’s nothing wrong with that. For me, it’s not the crying that affects me the most, it’s irritability. I try not to be so hard on myself about it.

3. Remember your parent (the way they truly were):

That sounds like a given, but hear me out. If you’re like me, when you think about your parent, it makes you sad that they aren’t here. This is sort of secondary to my first tip, but I’m going to make an effort to let myself remember them the way they truly were. People tend to elevate the dead to sainthood, so fight the urge to do that. All of us have our imperfections. I’m going to make an effort to remember my parents in all their imperfect glory… I actually find it quite humorous to think about all their eccentricities. Try it.

4. Find someone who has gone through it to talk to.

I don’t care how understanding and empathetic a person is, if they have not been through the same thing, they won’t fully understand. It helps to talk to someone who has. My husband is a very ‘feely’ type of a person. If I cry, he’ll cry, but even though he says he feels my pain… he does not fully feel it. His mother, however, does and I sometimes say a few things to her about it. She has lost both parents and although we do not have a ‘pity party’ discussing it, it’s just nice to know someone else who knows how it feels.

Lastly, I think we all kind of look for ways to lessen the pain or difficulty of a situation… I know I do. I try ways to get around it, by occupying my mind constantly and distracting myself. Here’s the thing, I’m going to have to get through it at some point. I’m going to have to stare it in the face and not flinch. It’s going to hurt and there’s not much that is going to sooth it. Some days I may feel like distraction and some days I may feel more like facing it. But for the holidays, I’m going to do my best not to put them to the back of my mind with distraction. They deserve to be remembered, especially during the holidays, even if it hurts.

If you’re reading this and are going through something similar, I hope this has helped you in some small way. If it has, please share with someone else you think might need it. And just know that you’re not alone. (Quote source here.)

As she stated in her last paragraph, what she wrote has helped me (thank you, Kara Jane) and I hope it has helped you, too, by sharing it with you as she requested if you’ve gone through a significant loss, too.

Now before you listen to the YouTube video below by Mark Schultz, you might want to have some Kleenex handy. I just thought I’d warn you ahead of time. I’ll end this post with a couple of quotes I found on LetYourLoveGrow.com.” The first quote is by Emily DickinsonUnable are the loved to die, for love is immortality; and the second quote is by Henry Wadsworth LongfellowHe spake well who said that…

Graves . . .

Are the footprints . . .

Of angels . . . .

YouTube Video: “Different Kind of Christmas” (2014) by Mark Schultz:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here