Despite It All, I’m Still Thankful…

I know it’s Christmas and not Thanksgiving, but it’s okay to be thankful regardless of the season, right? And as horrible as this year has been for me, I realize I have a lot to be thankful for. This list is in no particular order, and does not cover everyone, not by a long shot. These are the scenarios standing out in my mind at this particular moment in time. Even if you are not on this list, know I appreciate your friendship, your support, your love, your laughter. It takes a village to hold up a grieving author, and you all have succeeded in spades. Now, on to the individual thanks…

I am thankful for my best friend, who, the day after I called to tell her the devastating news of my son’s death, flew across country twice in one day, just to get here to be with me during the most difficult few days of my life. I am thankful for a billion other reasons, too, but there isn’t enough space to go through each and every one. Just know this: I got the bonus package in the best friend lottery.

I am thankful for my husband, who, when I tried to blame myself for our son’s death, refused to even let me finish the sentence. And who has never once criticized or questioned or condescended the oceans of tears I’ve shed since March. Not only that, but when the waterworks start, he automatically pulls me into his arms and lets me soak whatever shirt he’s wearing at the time. It takes a real man not to get sick of his openly grieving wife, when his version of grieving is to internalize it.

I am thankful for my daughter, who has suffered more than any eleven-year-old should, and yet is one of the happiest, most cheerful, intelligent, gorgeous kids I know. And yes, I’m biased. But seriously, this kid has weathered this storm far better than I have. She actually likes to talk about her brother, to collect items that remind her of him, to cling to his memory. She keeps me sane, keeps me grounded, and I know she will never forget those years she wasn’t an only child.

I am thankful for my family, all of them, but especially my siblings and their significant others, my parents, my inlaws, my husband’s siblings and spouses, my nieces and nephews. I needed you all, and you were there. Your unwavering support has been worth its weight in gold. And silver. And titanium.

I am thankful for my friend TR, who, the day after it happened, brought over enough food to feed an army (which was good, since that’s about how many people made their way through our house over the course of that following week), not to mention enough boxes of tissues to last a normal household for a century. And when we ran out a couple weeks ago, she sent more. That’s all besides how helpful she was at the viewing, the funeral, and pretty much any time we needed her.

I am thankful for my friend KL, who grieves the same way I do, and who knows how I feel practically before I do. And who knows when to send a funny text, a serious text, a snarky text, or just sit and drink together, without saying a word. Okay, that’s a lie. We can always find something to talk about. And I always feel better afterward.

I am thankful for NR, who has embraced my daughter so tightly, I’m a little afraid she wants to adopt her. And from that friendship, our own has blossomed. Which is really pretty cool.

I am thankful for my daughter’s teachers and principals. The ones in her elementary school who wrapped her in a little bubble of love, so much so that I dreaded her move to middle school. And I am thankful for her teachers and principal at her new middle school, who have welcomed her with open arms, and who are helping her to excel in a brand new environment, despite the baggage of grief she’s brought with her.

I am thankful for my husband’s besties (Is it okay to call a group of frat brothers “besties”?) and their wives, for a lot of reasons. For the support, for the laughs, for, during his formative college years, helping to mold him into the man he is. And I should probably mention my thankfulness for the contribution his fraternity alumni association made to help cover the funeral expenses. We didn’t even know until the funeral home contacted us and mentioned it.

I am thankful for my writing group, for the friends I have who live all over the globe. Besides the, you know, actual writing aspect of the group, I’m thankful for the friendship, the support. The private conversations when I was suffering through my darkest hours, thinking thoughts best not shared in public. The cards and gifts, including the stuffed animal for my daughter, and the gift card to Bronner’s, to help replace the ornaments I lost when our tree fell over a couple weeks ago. The encouragement, the advice, the never judging, no matter how wacky I’ve sounded in the last nine months (or probably at any time).

I am thankful for my neighbors, my neighborhood. I won the lottery (again—see BFF comment above), and I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have settled into this home. Even if it is a thousand miles from the day job (or so it feels, during rush hour).

And I am thankful for you, for reading my blog posts, for your comments and encouragement, while I work my way through this grieving process the only way I know how… By writing.

Some relationships are irreplaceable. And I am thankful for each and every one of them.  Continue reading “Despite It All, I’m Still Thankful…”

“Oh My God, The Tree Just Fell Over”

It wasn’t the dog.

When our Christmas tree crashed to the floor in the living room only minutes after we’d finished decorating it, for a brief moment in time, it felt like my entire world was crashing down around me.

Again.

The day had been hard enough. First, there were the tears when my daughter asked, “Why does church make you said, Mom?” To which I replied, “Because when I’m there, all I hear is, ‘sacrifice your only begotten son.’”

Then we headed out to the tree farm, a different one from where we usually went, and this time, we tagged along with my brother and his family. It was just different enough to be fun, tainted by only a shadow of sadness.

Until we got home. Until I began carrying boxes upstairs from the basement. Until I opened that first one, and staring up at me was a homemade decoration, naturally, from my son. And so I cried as I sifted through the ornaments and decorations and prepared to dress the tree.

I tucked away the stocking, the Christmas memories booklet he’d made for me when he was five, and the mat for Santa’s cookies, which says, “To Santa, from Brady.” But we added the personalized ornaments to the tree, and I cried some more as I thought about each memory, the reason behind each purchase. A yellow school bus for the year he went to kindergarten. The steam engine for the train phase. “Bah humbug” from last year, when he was cranky more than he wasn’t.

I cried and drank wine and pushed through because my daughter was having such a fun time making the tree look pretty. She and I even added the lights this year, a job usually reserved for my husband. But he was outside putting lights up on the house for the first time in a few years, so we certainly weren’t about to complain.

The tree was full and there were only a few ornaments left, and we joked that we had no more room. And then the phone rang, my mother calling. I don’t even remember why she called or what we talked about. All I know is my daughter and husband were in the kitchen, the dog was curled in her bed, and I was standing in the hallway, staring at the brightly lit tree as it crashed to the floor.

“What was that?” my mother asked.

“Oh my God, the tree just fell over.”

“Bye,” she said, and I dropped the phone. The dog ran into her crate, her safe place. My daughter rushed into the room and dropped to her knees amongst the shattered remains of seventeen years’ worth of Christmas memories, lamenting most especially the loss of the Bronner’s ornaments, the big, fat ones with our names scrawled across the front. Every one except my husband’s (his name is Chris) had to be special ordered because we don’t have typical names.

The train didn’t make it, along with a dozen others. The one with an eight-point buck we’d bought my husband the year he’d shot his first deer. The dog-loving one we’d purchased not two weeks prior for my daughter. I’m honestly not even sure which others didn’t survive. Many were little more than dust when we pulled the tree upright and discovered it had a twisted trunk, and by setting it straight in the stand, we’d actually made it top-heavy. The only way we were able to get it to stay upright was by shoving a pile of newspapers under one side of the stand.

I admit, I lost it that evening. Once the tree was no longer in danger of falling over, I sank to the floor and sobbed. Admittedly, this isn’t unusual, not since March, although I usually go off and hide so no one has to experience the rather un-pretty sight. My daughter hates to see me cry, and tends to hide her own sadness as a result, and I don’t want her to bottle things up the way so many of us do. And my husband isn’t a fan of feeling helpless, and that’s exactly how he feels whenever I cry, a phenomenon he’d rarely experienced prior to this year.

And then my husband walked over, offered me a hand, and pulled me up and into his arms. He let me soak his shirt for a few minutes, and then he said, “We’ll replace the name ornaments. All four.” And I cried harder. So he said, “Hey, you’re the one who said you wanted to do something different this year.”

And we laughed. All three of us.

The cleanup was still hard. There were more tears. I’m still heartbroken over the loss of the physical reminders of those memories. And I’m also admittedly relieved that I don’t have to open those boxes next year and see quite so many of those reminders of what I’ve lost.

When it was finally done, the cleanup and the redecorating of the tree, after we tucked our daughter into bed and my husband wandered off to do who knows what, I stood in the dark in the living room and stared at the tree. There were still plenty of ornaments; it didn’t look sparse at all. A cursory examination of the remaining ornaments told me many of those that broke were representations of my son’s life.

2016-xmas-tree

It wasn’t the dog, but I kept wondering … Was it something else?

I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I’ve been in therapy since this past spring. I’ve discussed signs with my therapist. “Everyone talks about receiving a sign that their loved one is happy and well up in heaven,” I’ve told her. “I want a sign. Why haven’t I had a sign?”

I think this was my sign. I admit, I was expecting a shooting star or something equally as profound and benign. But this … this was exactly the sort of sign my son would send.

“I’m trying to make you less sad, Mom,” was what I think he’s trying to tell me, in his typically convoluted way.

I’ll take it.

So no, it wasn’t the dog. And yes, we’re pulling together, finding the joy in this holiday season. Wherever we can. However we can.

Oh, and by the way, ‘Bah Humbug’ survived the crash.

ba-humbug

 

Traditions & Decisions & Real Christmas Trees

My family and I are “live Christmas tree” people. We love the difficulty getting it in the front door, vacuuming pine needles literally all year long, the daily shouts of, “Did anybody water the tree?”

Okay, maybe those aren’t the reasons we love live trees, but clearly the positives outweigh the negatives, because as long as my husband and I have been together (and it’s been a looooooong time), we’ve had live trees for Christmas. In fact, we traipse out into the wilderness (okay, a tree farm) and wander about, inspecting needles (not too sharp), branches (not too weak), trunks (not so gnarled it won’t fit in the stand), looking for holes, gaps (that can’t be filled by lights and ornaments); searching for the perfect temporary addition to our rather small living room, which also happens to have low ceilings. A challenge, to say the least. But we’ve always been up for it.

12342536_10153857407531579_4200831093370213439_n

Once we had kids, they joined our annual excursions. Occasionally willingly, sometimes, not so much, but that’s kids for you, right? Eventually, my daughter became opinionated enough (who am I kidding? She’s been opinionated since she was born) to want to have a say in which tree we selected, which of course lengthened the visits to the tree farm. But hey, that’s what it’s all about. The experience.

And then the kids were big enough to be able to take the hack saw to the tree trunks themselves. The first year my daughter wanted to give it a try, there was a fight with shoving and harsh words and crying because they both wanted to be the one to take that final swipe that would send the tree tumbling to the snowy ground.

Last year, my son did the entire thing himself. Laid down on the ground and sawed away, with my husband standing over him, until it was almost there, and then my daughter yelled, “Timbeeerrrrrrrrr!”

12299193_10153857407396579_6445624785984790929_n

And now he’s gone.

So what do we do this year? I’ve been mulling over this; okay, stressing over it, for months. I’ve mentioned this in past posts, but I handle things (like life) better when situations are different from the way they were when my son was alive. I recall when we went to Dallas to visit my best friend over spring break, only a few weeks after his death. It’s an annual road trip we’ve made every year since we moved back to Michigan in 2001. This year, we deliberately planned several fun excursions that we’d never done before. It was great. I got to spend loads of time with my BFF; my daughter got to be our entire focus; and I could pretend my life hadn’t just fallen apart at the seams, at least for a little while.

And then we stopped at the grocery store, tried to figure out what we wanted to do for dinner. We decided to do a “raw bar:” cut veggies and fruit, a variety of cheeses and crackers and summer sausage, and of course, lots of wine. Something my family did on the regular. Usually a Friday evening tradition, where we gathered around the coffee table with the kids, turned it into a picnic, and watched a movie together.

And I stood next to the gourmet cheese display in Whole Foods and cried for the son I’d lost, the memories that I love and hate with equal passion.

I had a similar experience in May, when we took my daughter to Florida for an impromptu long weekend, something we’ve never done before. Her first time in an airplane, her first time going to Sea World, swimming in the ocean. It was so fun, so relaxing, so nice to, once again, forget about the hell that had become my reality… Until we arrived home and I walked in the backdoor and his pictures were still there, his coat was still hanging on the hook, his bedroom remained untouched … and I remembered that he was gone, forever.

On and on, I’ve had countless experiences like this since his death in March. Now we’ve entered that time of year when holidays and tradition go hand in hand, and I am one of those people who loves, loves, loves traditions. I hate the idea of giving up the traditions we’ve started as a family, and yet I hate the idea of continuing them without my son.

And I don’t want an artificial tree.

The solution to this specific dilemma came from my brother and sister-in-law. They have always had an artificial tree, because my niece had childhood asthma, a result of having been born prematurely. But she’s eleven now, and has outgrown the barrier they’ve had to having a real tree for Christmas.

They suggested we go chop down our Christmas trees together. My daughter will be thrilled, because any time she can spend with her cousins is a win in her book. My husband has wanted to try a new place anyway. And I’ll get to keep the best part of the tradition, while at the same time creating a new one, one that hopefully won’t make me cry.

At least, until we open the boxes of ornaments. But that’s a blog post for another day.

10846467_10152983677246579_25043200820240163_n

A Grieving Mother Dreads Christmas Traditions

Today my daughter asked whether we would hang my son’s stocking for Christmas this year. Our first year without him.

My honest answer is, “I don’t want to.” I don’t want the reminder. I do better without the reminders, which makes me feel guilty. But then again, practically everything seems to cause Mom Guilt, so why should it be any different after the kid has died?

I’m dreading Christmas this year. A holiday I normally look forward to with child-like excitement. Of course, all the reasons I once looked forward to it are the exact reasons I dread it now. The decision about the stocking. All those homemade ornaments and decorations. I saved every single one, and once upon a time, it was like, well, Christmas when we pulled the storage bins out of the basement and eagerly sorted through, recalling the when, why, how of each one.

And then there are the ornaments I’ve been collecting for my children since they were born. A new one every year. I wrote their initials and the year it was purchased on the bottom. The plan was to give them each their own ornaments when they got married, so they’d already have a solid start on their first Christmas tree decorations (not my idea – I give my aunt full credit for this ingenious plan).

Now what do I do with the thirteen ornaments with the initials “BCL?” Maybe I’ll offer them to my daughter when she’s an adult, living on her own, with her own tree to decorate. Unlike me, she craves the reminders, the small items that used to be his. She’s clinging to the memories, whereas I just … can’t. They make me cry, and I’m so damn tired of crying. I’m not even sure I can put them on the tree this year. I guess we’ll see, next month. Most likely, I’ll follow her lead on this one. So far, when it comes to this whole grieving process, she’s been so much wiser than me.

img_6132 img_6133

(This year’s ornament – totally perfect for my daughter!)

Let’s not forget the personalized family ornaments. We have a few from before my daughter was born, when our family was three. Most, of course, are noting a family of four. And now we’re back to three. It’s the same as the family portrait dilemma: We haven’t had one done since 2012, yet it doesn’t feel right to ask a professional to snap pics of us now, because someone’s missing. I imagine I’ll skip the personalized family ornament this year.

In an effort to maintain my own sanity, I’ve discovered “new” traditions are the way to go. Every time we do something just like we always have, it makes me sad. When we do new things, try new adventures, I’m able to forget my reality, if only for a short while. I prefer it that way. The hardest part of this, though, is Christmas. It’s such a traditional holiday. And we created those traditions as a family, for a reason, and the idea of giving them up hurts my heart as much as reliving them minus one. I don’t know the right answer. So far, we’ve gone with the flow, let our daughter’s suggestions lead us.

For his birthday a few weeks ago, per her request, we invited the aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents, and we all met out at his gravesite. We brought balloons—fourteen blue balloons (his favorite color and the age he would have—should have—been), and we all sang “Happy Birthday” before releasing the balloons. Then everybody headed to our house where we ate and drank and were merry. It was nice. Peaceful, oddly cathartic. Truly, the best option, given the situation.

Despite my emotional state over them, there are a few traditions I cannot let go. This past summer was one of them. Gathering my dad, my siblings and their kids, and all of us spending a week hanging out at the lake. It was hard, because that was arguably my son’s favorite week all year, but it wasn’t fair to everyone else to try to change this tradition. Not to mention, it’s my happy place, too, even without my son.

The other is the annual Christmas morning family picture, although last year, it changed to Christmas Eve evening, because I’m vain and I don’t look pretty in the mornings anymore. Every year since we’ve been married, my husband and I have taken a pic together in front of the Christmas tree, wearing the pajamas Santa always manages to deliver early, on Christmas Eve. Every. Single. Year. Seventeen years. I can’t give that up, and I don’t think my daughter would want me to.

So we’ll do it this year. We’ll go to Christmas Eve church service and we’ll return home, and somehow Santa will have stopped by while we were away, leaving a gift for each of us. Always pajamas. And then we’ll change, put on the new jammies. My husband will start a fire. And we’ll take that pic. We will. There may be tears; they’ll no doubt be mine. But I’ll get through it.

And then we’ll cuddle together on the couch, flip on the television, and we’ll watch Christmas shows. Traditional ones, like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A Charlie Brown Christmas. Oh, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

Then we’ll tuck our daughter into bed, tell her we love her, make sure she and the dog are settled for the night. And when we’re certain she’s asleep, we’ll whip out the presents, stuff the stockings, and … there will probably be more tears.

And then we’ll go to bed and we’ll wake up on Christmas morning, and we’ll revel in her joy, her excitement, all the love and fun that comes with that day, despite the trauma that happened in our lives. Because we’re still here, we’re still alive, and we deserve to carve a bit of happiness out of this life.

A Gift for You – The Epilogue to The Perfect Christmas

If you haven’t read The Perfect Christmas, be forewarned that this is a spoiler. It is the epilogue to the short story I wrote for Unwrapping Love, a holiday anthology that you can purchase here.

If you have read The Perfect Christmas, then this is a treat! I wrote this epilogue fully intending to include it as part of the story, but my editor recommended I cut it out. She said the story wrapped up nicely without it, and we were limited in our word count, and not surprisingly, I was over my allotment. “Save it and use it as a blog post, after the anthology has been out for a while.”

She had an excellent idea. The anthology came out on December first, and I figured offering up this deleted scene was appropriate for Christmas day. So without further ado, I bring you the epilogue from The Perfect Christmas:

PerfectChristmas-A

Ten Years Later….

 

 

Anna stood in front of the French doors, looking out over the darkened landscape, dotted with multi-colored tiny Christmas lights. Jesse stepped up behind her, smoothed his hand up her back and then cupped her neck, massaging gently.

“You okay?” he asked, his voice laced with concern.

She twisted her head to look over her shoulder and smiled. “It’s perfect. Everything is perfect.”

“Good.” He motioned with his empty beer bottle. “I’m going to go get everyone another round. You want one?”

She pulled the bottle out of his hand. “I’ll do it.”

“I’ll help you.”

Anna and Jesse exchanged a surprised look, but neither said anything out loud when Jessica walked over and interrupted their conversation. Jesse dropped his hand and Anna led her sister into the kitchen.

“So Mom says she’s using one of your ideas to redesign their kitchen.”

Anna shrugged. “Jesse’s going to do the work. I just gave him the idea.”

Just,” Jessica muttered under her breath. Then she added, “What can I do?” She stood in the middle of the room, looking slightly lost and as gorgeous as ever.

“Um, how about you get a bottle of wine from the rack? The opener is in that drawer over there.”

Anna snagged three bottles of beer from the fridge. When she turned around, Jessica stood, facing the counter, her palms planted on the smooth surface, her shoulders shaking slightly. Anna placed the beers on the counter and walked over to press her hand against Jessica’s back.

“Hey. What’s wrong?”

Jessica shook her head and tore a paper towel from the roll perched near her elbow. She dabbed at her eyes and cleared her throat. “I didn’t think I would cry.”

Fear sliced through Anna’s body, shooting from her extremities straight to her heart, where it wrapped its slimy, dark tentacles around and squeezed. She tried unsuccessfully to suck in air.

“Are you … are you changing your mind?”

It had been ten years. Cora knew her as cool Aunt Jess. She breezed through town less than half a dozen times a year, and life was always a party when she was around. While they no longer argued and fought like hateful sisters, Anna was always relieved when she left again – without her daughter.

“About what?”

“Cora.”

Jessica turned around and leaned against the counter. Her face wasn’t even splotchy. If Anna had been crying, her face would look like she was having an allergic reaction.

“No. Mom and I said we would take both your girls for a spa day for Christmas, and we meant it. And if you’re worried we’re going to corrupt them, don’t be. You have had far too much influence by now. For God’s sake, Cora wants to become a partner in yours and Jesse’s business someday. What twelve year old wants to be a carpenter?”

The slimy tentacles retracted and Anna blew out a relieved breath. “Of course,” she said, her voice shaking only a little.

She waited while Jessica dug around in the junk drawer, searching for the wine opener.

“She isn’t mine,” Jessica said into the silence. “I mean, she is, but, you know…”

“I know,” Anna reassured her. “And I can never thank you enough for that gift. Both of them.”

“Cora and Gina?”

“Cora and Jesse. And Gina.”

“You two did make a pretty cute kid. Funny that she looks just like me.”

Anna did not rise to that bait. Secretly, she was pleased that both of her daughters had inherited Jessica and her mother’s beauty. She’d confessed as much to Jesse last night, and in an effort to demonstrate just how beautiful she was, he’d seduced her on the rug in front of the Christmas tree. She hadn’t minded the reassurance. Not in the least.

“We should probably get back with the drinks. Mom’s wine glass was empty when we came in here. I’m surprised she hasn’t come charging in, demanding her refill.”

“Danny and I split.”

So that was the cause of the tears. Jessica wasn’t feeling sentimental over seeing her biological daughter during the holidays. She was upset over the loss of her relationship with her rock star boyfriend.

“I’m sorry.”

“He’s big time now, you know. Hot young bimbos are throwing themselves at him at every turn. It was only a matter of time. I guess even I have begun to age.” She sighed deeply.

“You’re just as beautiful as you’ve always been, Jessica.” Anna fed her sister the obligatory compliment, but the thing was… it was true.

Jessica waved away her words and filled the wine glass she’d brought with her into the kitchen. “It’s okay. I met this twenty-two year old at the bar the night before last. I’m actually going to meet him again in about an hour.”

Anna probably should have been shocked. She’d learned ten years ago not to be shocked by her sister. Jessica was, and always would be… Jessica.

“Listen, before you go …” Anna reached out, touched her sleeve, then pulled back, unsure of what to say, where to start. How did you thank someone, when they didn’t even really believe they’d given you a gift in the first place?

“Yes. I will.”

“Huh?”

“Jesse told me about your plans for your tenth anniversary. I said I’d come back into town to watch the girls.”

“You … you will?” Never in a million years would Anna have dreamed to ask her sister to watch her two children while she and Jesse slipped away for a tenth anniversary trip.

“What? Would you rather leave them with our parents?”

Anna laughed, then slapped a hand over her mouth. Jessica tossed her a wry grin and sipped from her wine glass.

“Jesse’s parents will watch them. Or his sister.”

Jessica shook her head. “No. I want to. It’ll be good for me. For them.”

Those slimy, scary tentacles started to advance again. “You won’t …”

“Suddenly develop maternal feelings? Not a chance. I’m digging this Aunt Jess status. It’s pretty cool, actually. And it’s only in short spurts, which is even better. So stop worrying. It’s been ten years, Anna. How much longer will it be before you are convinced that Cora and Jesse are yours, and they always will be?”

Anna impulsively grabbed her sister and pulled her into a breathtaking hug. Jessica endured it for approximately ten seconds, and then she pushed her sister away. “Go. Get in there and deliver beers to the guys. And then go hug on that husband of yours. You know he likes it more than I do.”

“Yeah. He does.”

 

###

Happy Holidays! Thx for Reading

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑