Thursday, December 24, 2009

On the Eve of Christmas

So it is as I mentioned it would be in my last post.

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.

Merry Christmas,


  1. so beautiful. i love the photos of the ocean. i haven't been to a long length of flat beach that wasn't broken up by granite in a long, long time. and beach stones, i have a great many. i used to stack rocks. someday i'll post photos but i liked to think that in stacking the rocks, i was communicating some kind of intangible infinity to whomever would come along behind me.

    and writing in the sand. he did it for me, my Dragon. our initials inside a heart. it's how i sign my sewing now. i embroider it on everything.

    you are such a wonderful father. i'm glad you go to the beach now. and i think "melancholy" is a lovely color. Crayola should be petitioned.

    Merry Christmas, 3SF. you and your daughter are in my prayers.

  2. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post, and thank you for sending prayers to us first timers.

    My boys and I went to church tonight, and I realized that it was the first time I returned to church since Michael passed away. I have avoided it due to being angry at God, and didn't want to return until I felt ready. Tonight I found myself singing at the top of my lungs, just as Michael would when we did attend. In between the hymns I would be in tears, but all in all it felt good.

    My sons were both increadibly sensitive to my feelings today, which I really appreciated. I think they understood how much effort I had made in creating some sense of holiday spirit. What feels signficantly different this year, beside Michael's absence, is that my kids seem to have grown up considerably. I suppose you don't go through the loss of a parent without losing a bit of your innocence.

    I love your tradition of visiting the beach. Michael loved the ocean, and your description of your day is making me consider a drive to the beach tomorrow.

    Merry Christmas. I hope you and your daughter have a blessed day.


  3. What a beautiful post, I could smell the sea when I read your post.

    You made me feel wrapped up and warm - thank you. What a gift to receive on my first Christmas as a widow. There are no words really there to thank you with for that.

    I will see the sea later, and know it will bring tears to my eyes, but only a few ... as I shall be driving.

    I wonder if the sea here will be coloured, "Melancholy"? I'm expecting it to look grey and rough because of the colour of the sky.

    I'll hold that pebble in my heart today, it will get me through and make him proud of me :-)

    Love to you and your daughter. Merry Christmas!


  4. I happened upon your blog today in search of others who were feeling like I am on a day like this. My situation is much different but yet the same. Today is the first Christmas without my mom who passed suddenly on November 10th 2009. My father is taking it quite hard after 43 years of marriage and like you, I am far from family (also on the East Coast but in Canada)as they are Mid-West as well. Your blogs are very well written and you carry your reader into your life and whereabouts (the ocean, I am two blocks from it so I can hear it when you speak), I can even feel your loneliness and for that I am very sorry. I have a six year old girl and I cant imagine her losing me and my husband taking it all on having to keep it all together. I am so sorry for your loss and although I havent lost a spouse I lost a very important person in my life and everything you said I can relate... the hospital experience brought me back... my mother died from complications due to inadequate hospital care. Yes, she was ill but, they took way too long to do anything (she too sat there while her body was bleeding internally) and by the time they started doing something about it, it was too late. Anyway, I found your blog doing a random search and I am very touched by your writing and I wish you and your daughter the best christmas you could have today.


  5. To WNS, Dan, and Boo - You have all truly been on my heart all day and will continue to be. I hope that this day has been bearable at least and that you each were afforded some small glimpse of hope this Christmas. (Keep reading for individual responses).

    WNS - As we walked along yesterday, my daughter started pausing to write things in the sand (mostly her name and "I love Daddy") I realized then that it might be a good way to sign this post.

    The seagulls were not as accomodating and my camera is not as capable, but I wanted you to know that I actually took that photo with you in mind. I've always thought of sea gulls as dirty, irritating birds (I prefer pelicans), but your photos of them have allowed me to see them in a different light. Thank you.

    Dan - I am so glad you were able to go to church last night. There are very few churches in my area that meet on Christmas Eve, so we were not able to go. But I've always felt like there's something unique about being in church on Christmas Eve, and I am happy you were able to experience that.

    And I hope to read soon that you were able to make that drive to the beach as well.

    Boo - You'd be amazed at how well one can drive under the influence of tears! I hope for your sake that your glimpses of the sea today were as helpful to you as mine were to me.

    I'm glad my words were of comfort to you today. I was not online during my first Christmas alone, but if I had been, I'd like to think someone would have done the same for me.

    Anon - Thank you for your comment. I am sorry that our situations are so similar, even if the person we are grieving was related in a different way. After my wife died, I used to make it a point to call her best friend. During those conversations we would often talk about how strange it was that while we were grieving the same person, we were grieving different relationships with her. Unfortunately grief is ugly and painful. I am sorry that yours is so fresh during this holiday season. Just know that it will get easier to bear at some point. And hang in there.

  6. Hi, Anon here

    My name is Michelle.

    You are completely correct about how we all grieve different for the same person due to the nature of our relationships. My father is in your situation minus a child at home and I fear he is quite lonely having only a few cats to tend to. I worry about him alot because I know he is lost without my mother as he is of the "old school" generation...not too self-sufficient. My biggest fear is that he will starve rather than learn to cook!

    I looked at many of your other posts and I am of the opinion you could write a book from your blogs. (especially for those who are suddenly single parents) You are an excellent writer and your photography use, although vague in nature, gives the reader enough to form a picture in their mind and relate it to themselves. This is what happened to me when I saw your little girls "first day of school" outfit and backpack (good choice by the way:)as a parent I know its an important transition, I remembered my childs first day and I became sad your wife was unable to be there; although I am sure she was looking from above. You have done a wonderful job of giving your little girl a loving and normal life;it is apparent in all your writing how much you love her.

    As for me, I am just taking things one day at a time, crying when I feel the urge (which just comes unexpectedly in weird places)and appreciating that I am here, healthy, with my own wonderful children. My loss has really hit home with how mortal we all are. Not sure why, but I always thought people who died were from other families.

    Do take care of yourself and your daughter... I will probably check back once in awhile if you dont mind because I enjoy your writing and of course I would like to know how you and your daughter are fairing.

    Peace be with you

  7. Picking up stones is good for you -- at least that's what this rockhound will say. And who knows -- perhaps your daughter might be another geologist in the making.

    Either way, it's great to feel connected to the ground beneath your feet and still celebrate the sand shifting on the shore. Appreciation of life and all that's in it is just one of the unlikely gifts on this journey.

    I'm glad to hear Christmas went well, and best wishes to you both for 2010.

    In the meantime, enjoy your ocean. I'll wave to you across the pond next time I look west.

  8. 3SF,
    Thank you for your beautiful post and for the virtual Christmas stone. I also find the ocean to be a place that fills a need in my soul. While it is a double edged sword as it also causes me to miss my husband even more (since he also found the ocean to be nurturing), I always feel more peaceful and calm after breathing in that salt air and feeling the sand under my feet. We spent this Christmas in Hawaii, an expensive attempt to avoid reality. For the most part it was a good trip, with plenty of time spent at and in the ocean. We made it through, and now we move on to face the rest of our firsts. I appreciate your kindness and thoughtfulness towards those of us behind you on this journey. Happy New Year to you and your daughter. I hope 2010 brings all of us peace and blessings.

  9. SSSF - you haven't posted for a while, so just checking in on you. You ok? Boo x

  10. Hey, Split. Hope you're doing well. Best wishes from London.

  11. Thanks for your concern everyone. Things here are fine, but I appreciate you reaching out, nonetheless. I hope to be back soon with some new posts.