When I was a kid, I overheard my dad telling my mom about someone putting all blue Christmas lights on their home for the holiday.
“Why?” I asked him.
“The holidays can be a really tough time for a lot of people,” he said.
As a child, the holidays were never tough or sad, of course. School was out for two whole weeks, Santa was coming and New Year’s Eve was actually a good time.
Looking back now, my parents were a big reason the holidays were so magical. For some years, my dad worked from home, so when I was out of school, we spent time decorating the house and baking cookies.
Around Thanksgiving every year, my dad and I would drag out boxes of lights, untangle the strands and plug them all in to make sure they worked. My dad always had a plan: green lights on the bushes, red and white lights on the columns in front of the house, white reindeer in the back, and so forth.
It sometimes took days, it was always cold, and although I don’t remember him mentioning it, I am certain it was a giant pain in the ass.
On Christmas Eve, we filled dozens of red, white, green and gold paper bags with kitty litter and tea lights and lined them along our driveway.
By Christmas morning, Santa had eaten all of the cookies and left LOADS of gifts. I was always, always so amazed at the amount of gifts under our tree and how beautiful everything looked.
Especially now, I don’t know how my parents pulled it off — I do not come from money. But, I know both of them worked very hard for everything we had.
One year, my dad picked up extra work at the Hickory Farms kiosk at the mall. He never said much about working there, but I always thought it was pretty cool. On some shifts, I would help him. He wore a maroon apron and as Christmas Eve drew closer, people panicked for gifts and things to bring for parties.
My dad always helped them pick gift baskets or crates filled with beef sausage, smoked cheese and pastel mints. I put the items in a brown bag.
Some years, we drove from Indiana to Tennessee to celebrate Christmas with my grandparents. Those years were always an adventure because of all the people. I have four uncles and they all had funny stories to share about Christmases on the farm.
Given all my dad did to celebrate Christmas, I always thought he loved it. Doesn’t everyone?
But after my parents divorced, my dad’s holiday celebrations became smaller and smaller. He seemed generally annoyed with most of the things that came with the season: traffic, crowded stores and short tempers.
Some years, he didn’t put up a tree, and eventually refused to drive on Christmas and other holidays.
When I was in high school, all of this seemed absurd. As I’ve gotten older, I can relate a little more. The holidays are never the same as when you were a kid; there’s much more to deal with (good and bad) and in general, it means more work, more money, and less time.
February will mark two years since my dad passed away, and while I do think this year was a little better in terms of grieving, it was still tough.
I know there’s no real formula or timeline for dealing with loss, and it hits us all a bit differently.
As my dad said, the holidays can be tough for a lot of people… and for many reasons. Since opening up about my dad’s passing, I’ve learned many people my age have already lost parents, too. It’s a shitty club to be in, but it never hurts to be able to relate to someone on a loss so giant.
Before my dad got sick, there were sadly many Christmases that came and went without us talking. I cannot say with certainty that if my dad were here today, that we’d be talking — it’s not a proud thing to admit, but it’s the truth.
These kinds of truths are what has made my grieving so difficult. There are certainly mistakes we both made throughout our relationship, and I think some of it has to do with how alike we were.
But no matter the rocky moments, and no matter the time that’s passed, it doesn’t make days like Christmas any easier.
Birthdays, holidays, life milestones — those are giant spotlights on all the things that are going great, or all the things that suck. That’s the nature of life, I’m afraid.
There is no set of things any of us can do that will guarantee brighter days ahead. Sometimes, it helps to remember the good times — and some days that makes me feel much worse.
Some days, the most random thing will remind me of my dad, which either sends me into a fit of laughter or a flood of tears.
I know it can help to participate in any traditions they liked. My dad and I used to go out to eat for breakfast on Christmas Eve, usually to Steak ‘n Shake. When I was in college, living far away, I continued the tradition on my own and my dad got a kick out of that.
I couldn’t bring myself to do it this year, but I did hang all of the ornaments he left me: an LSU Tiger, a glass football and a homemade gingerbread man.
You do what you can.
The truth is that grief is a path walked alone. However, it always helps to know that there are others without perfect days. Grieving is part of life, and I find comfort knowing that many of us are making it through each day the best way we can, however we can make it happen.
Holidays are no exception.
So, if you’re a little blue this holiday, please know you’re not alone. As much as loss hurts, I feel better knowing that I had a relationship worthy of the pain. I’m sad because I miss my dad and I know I can’t call him or see him again, at least not in the physical world.
I have seen my dad many times in my dreams. He is always healthy and happy, and that is how I’m going to try and remember him this holiday.
My wish for anyone grieving this holiday is that you’re able to find at least a single moment of joy. Whether it’s a funny movie, a good meal, or a phone call with a friend. The small moments lace up to bigger ones, and that’s the stuff life is made of.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks, a new a glorious morn.”