I was wrapping Christmas presents this afternoon. There was father: book. Mother: iPad accessory. Friend: book. Friend: game. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Unroll the paper, measure the gift, pull, cut, trim, tape, trim, tape, trim, tape, tape, tape, ribbon, bow, next gift. After the fifth present it became a mechanical process, almost boring. Almost…work. How terrible, no? Terrible to think that emotions of giving, kindness, secrets and surprises would become dread, bother, monotony.
I’ve mentioned before that my dead sister took the job of wrapping gifts very seriously. She was the one that always made Christmas an all caps, exclamation points, jazz hands affair: CHRISTMAS!!! She would wear the Santa hat, spend hours wrapping gifts, decorate the tree, decorate cookies my mom would make. She wasn’t much for cooking, but she was all about the decoration. Cooking was work. Somehow all the other work she did decorating the cookies never went into the work category. God, she was amazing. This will be the first Christmas without her. Christmas won’t be easy this year.
This has been compounded by the death of my grandfather. He died five years ago. His wife, my grandmother, my only remaining grandparent, doesn’t even put up Christmas decorations any more. She can’t bring herself to. She reminds me of this every time we talk. I don’t blame her. He had bought her a new camera for the Christmas he died just a few days before. She held the wrapped gift in her hands for over an hour before she opened it. She was crying the moment she held the gift in her hands. She had to excuse herself after she opened it. The family was left devastated and silent.
Christmas is a holiday of ghosts now. My mother has lost her two parents, and now my father has lost his father and his daughter. He’s having the most trouble. I can tell and nothing I do seems to change or improve that. I’ve tried to be positive and happy about this, but it doesn’t work on him. Not even his granddaughter (my niece, my brother’s daughter) brings him the same type of joy she used to.
So, the question for me and my family is how we can find happiness in, through, or during this situation. We have each other, but we always have. We’ve had almost two months to remind each other daily how much we love and care for each other.
I’m reminded of A Christmas Carol, and the four ghosts that visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve. Would that the ghosts of my family could visit with us on Christmas Eve! How happily devastating that would be! Whether we like it or not, though, ghosts will be there. Standing behind our shoulders, touching us for moments at a time, reminding us that we are a smaller group than we were in years past.
So, where is there happiness?
I’ve been thinking about the things that I can do with my family that won’t involve a slew of memories of the dead. There are few things. Church is out–that’s where Alex’s memorial service was. The park that gets all the Christmas lights is out–that’s the place Alex practically demanded we visit every year. The local lake is out, that’s where Alex walked and where one of her favorite coffee shops is. When I was home for her memorial service, we just sat in the house all day. That was exhausting, and I know I won’t be able to suffocate through that again.
But the question remains, and I’m in misery trying to find things that haven’t been touched with beauty by my sister over the years. I’m in pain remembering all of those wonderful memories. Depressed that there will be no more.
Here’s what I have:
- I’ve made a list of all the new restaurants and cafes and venues in town. My parents are exactly adventurous people, but I think I’ll be able to convince them to go out at least once to a place where there is no memory.
- I mentioned before that there are always new traditions to be started. I’ve been combing over Buzzfeed, Pinterest, and other such aggregates of creativity for new traditions to start with my niece that I can involve my parents in so there is focus on the new and not the old.
- I’ve been making lists of my new favorite movies, TV shows, and books to share with my parents. I’ve never bought them so many things before…mainly because they always say they don’t want anything, mainly because I’m never sure what to get them. That idea is going out the window. I’ve been researching books with humorous twists that my parents might enjoy reading. I’m going to get my father Nick Offerman’s book as he is an amateur woodworker. I’m going to get my mom Christopher Moore’s Sacre Bleu because she loves art. Anything to make them laugh, I’m going to try.
- If they hate it, I’m going to drag them to a movie. I’d settle for Frozen if it’ll be a shared experience. They know I love to go to the movies, and I think they’ll indulge me. I just need to make sure it’s not The Book Thief or 12 Years a Slave.
I speak often with my parents on the phone, and those conversations are so mundane, filling up the space and time with the most quotidian details of life. I let my dad explain to me all of the working parts in his trucks back door and why it’s not opening right any more. I’m telling my mother the food I’m eating for lunch. We’ve never done that before. There’s a new level of closeness, but there’s also a new level of desperation in this. I need to make new memories with my parents to remind them we are still capable of being a part of the world of the living. We cannot satisfy ourselves with the memories of the dead every hour.