What makes the holiday season so great is all of the love, magic and memories. Years of traditions, never breaking from our favorite ways: Christmas eve mass, a special visit from Santa at my Aunt’s house, and then a very precise Christmas morning formula: first stockings, then breakfast with cinnamon rolls and then opening presents.
The same things that make the holidays so great, are also what make them so hard as we grieve the loss of our dad.
There are endless distinct memories. What he would be wearing, where he sat, his funny sayings, the way he smelled, held his beer and laughed. The way he would roll his eyes at us in church for goofing off, but secretly be laughing inside with us.
Specific visions and moments play like a movie reel, so vivid and close, you can almost touch them.
The holidays amplify the grief – nothing is as it was, everything is different – and also the love.
It’s incredible how close sadness and joy have become in my life. Those two co-conspiring emotions are just the best of buds. Although I doubt any greetings cards ever read: “We go together like sadness and joy”. Sometimes I don’t want both of them, or either of them, but they are right there waiting for me, anxiously poking and prodding to be acknowledged.
On Christmas Eve, we all sat around the living room waiting for the special arrival of Santa. As the jolly old man himself came strutting through the front door, Maisley trembled in nervous excitement. Santa sat down and began reaching into his giant sack, pulling out presents name by name.
“This one’s for Maisley!”, he exclaimed. My daughter popped up off the piano bench like she had been waiting her entire 2.5 years of life for that moment.
She walked up – half smiles, half skeptic – grabbed her present while standing at the furthest possible point away, turned right around and walked right back to her seat. No thank you, no time for photos or sitting on his lap for a closer look.
The rest of the night she was glowing in awe and pride at her Rudolph pajamas from Santy claus. She was so proud, elated at the magic and surprise of Christmas Eve.
This was one of my happiest moments as a parent, equally feeling her infectious excitement. Just an hour before that, I had been crying in sadness at how unfair it is that of all the shit people in the world, my gold-hearted dad had to go.
Christmas was weird, chaotic, overwhelming. Getting presents and giving presents felt trivial. Something big was missing. A hole that only my dad could fill. A laugh only he could laugh. It was always going to be that way.
And still, we found gratitude. We found kindness and compassion from so many people. We found peace in prayer. We found laughter and slap happy relaxation.
We found solidarity with all of the other people who are experiencing the “most” time of the year. The most love, the most tears, the most of everything.