Christmas without him

*Grief at the holidays is never easy – and this year especially – there’s a number of us missing someone we love. Whether it’s due to loss, the pandemic, whatever, my heart goes out to all those crying by the light of their tree.*

As a child, I watched my father agonize over Christmas. Hanging lights, schlepping decor, buying more paper the day after from Ziggy & Zons. My dad was the magic of Christmas. I just didn’t realize it until later. That’s not to say that mom didn’t put in her fair share, she did, but a lot of it was delegating. He frosted cookies, he made sure they had 146 rolls of paper so presents could all be wrapped differently. He had a dozen pairs of Christmas socks in his things when we cleared out the house. This was a man who was passionate about celebrating.

He had his traditions. While most parents keep those alive at Christmas, I admired him for making his own. We had “Just from Daddy” presents: gifts he bought without mom’s knowledge; something impractical or frivolous that she may not have approved of. Often when we were very young, a bigger ticket item than many of the ones under the tree. It continued into adulthood with spouses getting ushered into the tradition and later, replacing the tag with “Just from Grandpa”.

I think it was the promise. The hope. The belief that this time of year was full of love and warmth at a time of year when it’s awfully dark and cold.

Of course, Christmas also means stress. Money. Years where they probably only got gifts for us because of their clearance shopping all year round. There was the chaos of parties: cleaning and prepping and arguing with mom 15 minutes before people arrived; him dressed and wiping down a counter while she finally went to put her face on. Extended family, which comes with its own complex system of happiness and frustration.

Midnight mass with children falling asleep in his lap who would be all too awake by 1:15 when back at the house. I laugh at how my sister and brother and I couldn’t wait until whatever time they’d ask us to wait until. 7 or 8? We’d make coffee, set up their glasses and ashtray and wait impatiently to begin, not knowing they only went to bed a couple hours prior.

I’m regretting the number of years I visited earlier in December or waited until after the new year to visit. Work conflicts, the cost of holiday flights, I was easily convinced by an ex and several others that it wasn’t a big deal to miss the day itself. I think now, that I would have had a handful more memories of those breakfasts with croissants and pineapple orange juice.

In 2017, I brought Adam home for Christmas. It was the first year in many that I had been at my parents home on Christmas Day. My dad had been especially looking forward to having all his kids in the same place, since my brother and I both lived out of state.

It was a Christmas both loud and quiet. The contrast between the morning full of kids and laughs, presents and a baby announcement, and the afternoon with my parents napping and my brother and our significant others driving around in the snow, hitting a gas station for snacks.

I’m glad we were there. He got what he wanted, everyone gathered together. We promised to spend every other year in Buffalo. Last year we were back, and it was a little disconnected. My brother and I didn’t overlap our visits, he came closer to New Years and we had already left. We visited with my parents and my sister’s family separately due to her kids being sick and not wanting to share it with my dad.

This year hurts.

Dad is gone. My mom is alone, quarantined in a nursing home with covid, and dealing with the loss of her husband, her home and most of her things. My brother and I won’t be traveling due to the pandemic and my sister has to play Santa at a time that her heart may not be in it.

There’s a small comfort in the fact that many are feeling the same things we are this year. My parents best friend who doesn’t get to see her new grandbaby, my aunt and uncle missing one more sibling gone. Plus, so many others who lost people this year, from covid and otherwise.

I’m lucky to have my husband close when the sadness overwhelms me. Siblings I can call and FaceTime with dumb memories and stories when I need to talk to someone else who knew him.

I am trying to remind myself that there is still good when so much feels wrong. That’s the Christmas lesson I learned from my dad.

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