In 2015, he begged me to buy an artificial tree. He was tired of sweeping up all the fallen pine needles and our youngest child was pulling them off to put the needles in her mouth. James had just received his work bonus and was ready to spend the money “on saving us in the long run”. Seven hundred dollars later, he chose our beautiful artificial tree with LED lights that shine white or multiple colors. I can still remember him telling me, “Babe, no matter what Christmas mood you are in, you have both choices and look the tree even blinks both colors at once.”
This damn tree is huge! It is full and wide, over 8 feet tall, and best of all it’s heavy as can be. I swear it has to weigh 200 lbs! Thankfully for me, James chose a tree that breaks down into 3 pieces. I am thankful for that now since I am the only one carrying it upstairs from the basement. The individual pieces are much better for my body to handle. This will be our second Christmas since losing him in May of 2017.
Thanksgiving was James’ favorite holiday. His birthday was the 20th of November, so it always fell on the week of Thanksgiving. He enjoyed a huge turkey spread each year and decorating for Christmas before black Friday was not allowed. However, things are different this year because the kids asked me to decorate early. They want to be surrounded by the smells, the lights, and the future promise of Santa’s arrival. To be honest, knowing James birthday and his favorite holiday are coming up brings me such sadness and despair that the possibility of skipping them would be a positive change this year.
Last year was almost more than I thought I could handle. The year of firsts without James, firsts of all kinds. All our babies birthdays, my 40th birthday, their first day of school, and our first holidays without him. I was so consumed with making sure everything was perfect for the kids. But it was like I was living on the outside of a bubble looking down at my own life passing me by. Tons of decorations, tons of gifts to open, hosting cookie parties and wanting to be surrounded by our family just to feel the love we lost. I was so blinded by everything around me that when it came to Christmas day, I fell apart.
My mom stayed with us and helped me play Santa. Our kids are 9, 7, and 3 so Santa still exists. I decorated, planned dinner, and assembled all those toys alone. I didn’t want the help because I felt I could do it alone. To be completely honest, I usually forget to ask for help until I was so deep into what I was doing. At that point, it was too late to find a way out and then there was no turning around. I mean I was chosen for this mission and must complete it on my own.
Christmas morning, I watched them run downstairs and start ripping into the gifts. This is when all that pent up fear, sadness, and loneliness came out. I couldn’t believe he was not here! I looked over at our picture, our family of 5. I began yelling at his picture, “How could you? How could you get on that motorcycle and leave me with these babies by myself. I prayed for these kids and now I can’t even enjoy them with you!” The pain was exhausting. As if I couldn’t be more sad, I looked over at the tree and underneath was empty. I was so caught up in making sure the kids were “okay” that I completely overlooked myself and I had no presents to open. Even though my family got me gifts, I had nothing to open that important moment on Christmas morning.
That is when it dawned on me that my gift receiving days were over. There were no more thought out gifts. Like the small jewelry box that he had hidden in his dresser for weeks, no more goofy prank gifts, and no more new coffee cups to use. Another piece to the grieving puzzle. A piece that you aren’t even aware of until it hits you right at that moment.
This year I am prepared. This year will be different. This year we've already decorated. I even relinquished the tree decorating responsibility to our kids. All of my ornaments are in front and center only going up halfway. My manger scene gets moved around daily, but this will be our new tradition. In addition, I created an Amazon list of the items I want as gifts. I've arranged for my sister to help my 9 year old order my gifts from my Amazon account. Santa is bringing each one of our kids a large toy, but I already have someone helping me with assembly and delivery. The hardest part, so far, was deciding where James’ stocking should go.
We have a “Dad table” where all his things go. This table is all about dad, so if the kids want to draw him a picture, buy him flowers, or put their latest sport trophy on the table, they can. Last year, his stocking stayed right out in front with ours, but seeing it everyday caused me such a huge amount of pain. This year I’ve chosen to put his stocking on his table, so I will see it when I walk by his table. Since our family is smaller, we will keep our 4 stockings in the living room. This season, we will continue to surround ourselves with family, but only making plans a week in advance. This is to allow us the time to grieve since grieving doesnt come with a schedule or a date book. You can be fine as wine one minute and then hear a song on the radio and BAM! You’re down on the floor holding your face while the tears fall through your fingertips. Grieving has no warning.
This journey has been an incredible eye opening experience and each day we get stronger and stronger. I pray every day for strength and guidance through this long road of grief and recovery. We are learning to adapt to our “new lives” as best as we can, one hour at a time. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and your family and please remember to treasure everyday as it comes. Trust me when I say I fully expected James to walk right back into our front door that Friday after work, but he never did. He will be forever 34.