I will come clean – I have been a Christmas hater for many years. Why? Because almost all of the people I used to spend Christmas with are gone! And the places I used to spend Christmas at are gone! The great die off in my family started in the 1990’s, although my grandparents were all gone by 1984. Once your aunts and uncles start dropping like flies the holidays have a way of becoming about as welcome as … well .. flies!
Every year it would start. I’d think about the Aunt Farm. My mother’s parents had a small farm. When they became unable to take care of themselves, three of my mother’s maiden or widowed sisters moved back in to take care of them. Once they had both died, the sisters found this to be a comfortable living arrangement and over the years you get aunt + farm = Aunt Farm. One of them had a boyfriend who became known as The Advaark. You can see why I miss these people – they were funnier than hell!
The Aunt farm is of course long gone. The house is still there owned by one of my cousin’s adult children. But the place – the endless card game, the bottomless coffee pot, the constant stream of puns and witty jokes – all relegated to the dust bins of history.
The remnant would gather at my parents’ house. No kids, no excitement, a much smaller buffet table. And then someone would remark, “Well, there’s another Christmas over with.” Cheery. Prozac anyone?
And now even that is gone. It is just a few of us huddling around a table in the Chinese restaurant! Last year was particularly horrible. I didn’t even put up a tree. People would ask “what are you doing for Christmas?” I’m pulling down the blinds and sitting in my house with my fingers in my ears, that’s what!
So what happened?
The second year after my mother’s death I realized several things:
1) I was prepared for this. Specifically prepared for this. I found it a cruel joke at the time, but about a week before my mother died I had a lucid dream. I was taken back in time. I was sitting in the sandbox in the back yard of the house across the street, waiting for my friend Lisa to return from the bathroom. It was a sunny summer day in about 1976. Simultaneously I was 100% conscious of both that time and the present. As my 6 year old self and my 39 year old self compared mental notes I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that if I were back there I would miss the people I have now – but did not know yet then – just as much as I now miss the people who I had then and are now dead. I realized that most of my friends were exactly what I was – unknown children growing up in Podunk towns in the middle of nowhere. And just where the heck would you ever find, let alone buy, and antique flute or harp in 1976? I would not be able to do ANY of the things I am now doing in 1976 because there was no internet. No Ebay. No Amazon.com. And I also realized that if I had all of my favorite people all at the same time I wouldn’t have much time to spend with any of them. Maybe it was better than they were spread out over time?
And then I pondered tattling on Lisa’s little brother for throwing sand. After all I was 6.
I woke up from this dream thinking I was nuts for spending all my time filled with dread over my parents getting old and dying. This was a golden age! Both of them were still alive, my son was young and living at home, and my husband is alive. What the heck am I whining about? A week later my mother died. Short golden period, I thought sarcastically. But over time I came to a deeper understanding of it, especially the part about not having time for everyone if you have them all at once.
2) The ADC contact continued and I came to know on a very deep level that these loved ones who have crossed over are FINE. It’s one of those things that you think you know because you’ve been told so (by religious authorities usually) but until you have to walk through that valley and make peace with it yourself, you don’t really KNOW it. Once you do know it at that level your fear of death disappears. As I’ve said before it is not a “get out of jail free” card from grief, but as the grief resolved itself I found myself in a much better place than I was when I was merely dreading my parents’ deaths.
3) I learned to trust the future to deliver more good things. At least a little bit. In the dreading days I felt like my parents would die, my kid would grow up and leave, and then my husband would die and I’d just end up living with hundreds of cats. But now I’ve learned to trust that yes – there are more favorite people out there in the great unknown that I can’t even imagine yet. They will show up in my life, even if it is while I am at the animal shelter adopting cats. After all both my son and my husband were in that great incomprehensible future in 1976, so is it really that hard to believe that there are more of them to come?
So there you have it! This year I surprised myself my discovering that I liked playing harp in front of a Christmas tree. So I put one up in my harp room. And I did not get mean or depressed. I had a good time at the Chinese place with the people who are in my life now. Who knows, next year we might even do something really radical like open presents under the tree on Christmas morning! There will only be three of us. But so what? We are here now and that is what counts. And my mother and the aunts and uncles? Well, I know they are in the “many mansions in My Father’s house” playing cards and having a good time because I’ve seen it with my own eyes (or at least my third eye). My mother said it best when she chewed my ass out two months after she died:
“YOU of all people should know THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM!”