December 25 is coming, whether we are ready for it or not. And in a few short hours (at least in my time zone) it will be here. When I mentioned that, I was speaking mostly in terms of being physically ready – having the gifts purchased, the cards sent, those sorts of things. But for so many of us, it means so much more than that. It means another significant day without our loved ones.
I also mentioned in my previous post that I was having a rough time getting into the Christmas spirit this year. I have always loved Christmas and everything is stands for. I am not as crazy about the commercialization of the holiday or the fact that the real meaning so often gets lost in the shuffle, but that is fodder for another post entirely. What has surprised me about my attitude this Christmas season is mostly that I didn’t see it coming. I would have expected this for the first and maybe even the second Christmas after my wife’s death. But the third?
And yet, I had no choice, but to make sure everything got done. My daughter’s Christmas memories shouldn’t have to suffer simply because I’m in a funk this year. So the Christmas shopping was all completed, with time to spare no less. And the decorating was finished, albeit to a much lesser degree than in previous years. And even though some of the cards and packages won’t arrive till sometime after tomorrow, at least they were in the mail ahead of time.
But I still can’t shake this feeling I’ve had lately. It’s very reminiscent of what I went through last winter grief-wise, but last year it didn’t begin until much closer to my birthday. I guess I was just naïve enough to believe that it wouldn’t happen again this year.
One thing that has helped me continue the façade with my daughter is that we have so many traditions this time of year. The Christmas my wife was pregnant with our daughter, we announced to both sets of families that we would begin our own traditions now that we were going to have our own child. Part of that included not spending Christmas Day in the Midwest, but going there the week after Christmas (one of the luxuries we both had as educators). And when we did begin our own traditions, we mostly mixed the ones we had both enjoyed as children.
In the years since my wife’s death, we have kept many of those traditions, but have added a few as well. We still bake a coffee cake on Christmas Eve to eat for breakfast Christmas morning. We still read all three of the same stories just before bed. And of course, we still put out a plate of cookies for the big guy in red.
The Christmas Eve after my wife died, I felt the strongest urge to see the ocean. There’s just something about standing on the sand and looking out across the blue water that fills a need within me sometimes. We try to make it a point to go down about once a month in the winter, even if it’s freezing cold or raining and we just sit and stare at it through the dunes. We were leaving for the Midwest the following afternoon, and I knew that I needed to see the ocean again before we did so.
Out of that moment of need, another tradition was born.
As much as I would have liked to head to the beach alone, and stand on the shore that day and cry alone, it was not a possibility. As a single father living so far from family and not feeling it appropriate to lean on anyone else on Christmas Eve, I did the only thing I could do. I drug my then three-year-old along with me.
And it turned out to be the best move I could have made.
You see, I did not stand on the beach and cry that day. I chased my daughter down the length of sand instead. Oh rest assured I was still incredibly melancholy. But I didn’t have the luxury of pouring out my grief in that moment. I had to be a father first and a widower later, once she had gone to bed that night and I found myself setting out her gifts alone.
As my siblings and I grew up, moved out, married, and the like, it became a tradition at my parents’ house for everyone to bring one item to put in everyone else’s stockings. I’ve received everything from candy to trinkets to lottery tickets from various family members over the years.
That day on the beach, my daughter began picking up stones. I have always loved beach stones, much more so than shells. But my daughter was then prone to picking up solely shells. To this day I have no idea why she picked up stones instead on that Christmas Eve. But as she picked them up, it occurred to me that they would make the perfect stocking stuffers for my mostly land-locked family. So we picked up enough for everyone, and the next week she helped me determine which one went into each individual’s stocking. It’s something they seem to look forward to now.
It occurred to me sometime after we had picked up those initial Christmas Eve stones, that they represented some things. Now, I have never been one to believe that there is any sort of power or energy within stones themselves, but I believe that these particular stones contained a powerful meaning for me. There seemed to be a certain semblance of hope in stones that had washed ashore on Christmas Eve. And I think hope is what I needed more than anything else on that first Christmas Eve alone.
Maybe it’s just what I needed on this Christmas Eve as well.
When I first set eyes on the ocean this afternoon, I could see that it was a deeper shade of blue than is typical, even in winter. Its unusual darkness seemed to mirror my mood. If Crayola could capture the shade, they’d have no choice but to label it “melancholy”. But the sun was out and my daughter was smiling, so I once again found myself embracing the hopefulness of the moment as she selected this year’s stones.
As I write this, I am very mindful of those who are in a similar position as I was on that Christmas Eve two years ago. Those who are embarking on their first Christmas without their mates – WomanNShadows, Dan, letterstoelias, SuddenWidow, and Boo – to name but a few. If I could send all of you a Christmas Eve stone, I most assuredly would. But know at least that you are all in the hearts and prayers, not only of myself, but of the many who read this blog and yours as well.
May we all feel the hope of Christmas this year.