This is hard to admit but for the past 9 years the six weeks from November 18th to December 31st I have lived under a very heavy cloud. I function well and get through the holidays but it is an incredible battle. Now let me assure you: Thanksgiving is always on the table, Christmas cards get sent, the tree is decorated, gifts are wrapped and carols are sung. There is laughing and smiling along the way but most nights I go to bed heartbroken.
November 18th is my Dad's birthday. Simply stated I was a Daddy's girl. As mentioned in previous blogs I have quite an estranged relationship with my Mother. In 2002 my Dad died alone in a nursing home while my mother was out of state visiting friends for Christmas. Instead of calling his daughters as soon as she was notified on December 21st she waited over 24 hours until her return to New York to make the necessary phone calls. His wake was planned for December 29th, the day after my son's birthday. We travelled up to New York on December 26 and returned to Florida December 31st. From his wake to his burial my mother chose to ignore every request my dad had voiced over the years, as if she was belittling him one last time. The bright side during that trip was that for the first time in many years Long Island had snow for the holidays which we saw as a gift from Pop-Pop for his southern Grandchildren who had never seen it before.
The loss of my Dad sent me into a downward spiral. We weren't surprised at his passing as he had been in the nursing home for the better part of a year. What sent me spiraling was the manner in which everything was handled. My Dad spent every Christmas with my family until he became ill in 2000. Christmas always brought a cook book from my Dad in my married years. Outside of Christmas it was my Dad who always stood in my corner. After helping me shop for a gown it was he alone who attended my Senior Vocal Recital in Geneseo. He taught me how to cook and enjoyed trying out recipes together. Though there were two parents in my home I was primarily raised by my Dad.
Mourning the loss of my Dad is appropriate however the downward spiral isn't healthy and I worried about what it was teaching my kids. They know that my annual funk is due to missing Pop-Pop and they accept it. Well it is time to turn that around.
When we lose something there is a hole that has to be filled. Whether it is the loss of a parent, a job, a pet, even the choice to quit smoking that loss creates a void within us that our bodies will naturally fill however possible until we choose to fill it ourselves. While each loss creates a different kind of emptiness filling that space takes a conscience action. For those who quit smoking filling that smoke break every day with a different activity is important such as walking. Changing an unhealthy habit for a healthier one is an obvious solution. But how do we fill the loss of a parent?
We have to turn our mourning activities into memorializing ones. So this is how I am planning on preventing my annual holiday funk this year. My Dad, as well as his parents, were members of the Salvation Army; my Grandfather wrote music for them. Like thousands of other holiday shoppers every year I have dropped coins into the Salvation Army Kettles. However this year every time I drop coins I am going to say "This is for you Dad". Seems simple enough doesn't it? Almost seems like a nothing activity. Let's be honest I already drop the coins so it isn't as if I'm doing anything new so why should this make a difference? It is the remembering, the memorializing that is going to be the difference.
My Dad isn't the only family member we've lost. Six months after his passing we lost my father-in-law and a few years my mother-in-law as well. I am going to leave the decision of how to memorialize them up to my husband. January brings the anniversary of my in-laws and on that day I think it would be nice to have a dinner in their honor with a small decadent cake.
I think this idea of Memorializing not only will help me but could show the kids that while mourning is a healthy and important part of loss it can turn into something powerful and fulfilling. Perhaps next year on November 18th or December 21st my family can serve as Bell Ringers. What a great family tradition that could turn into!