My First Christmas After Losing My Parents. Trying To Find The Season's Joy Again
2017 Has Been A Hard Year... A Very Hard Year
Of course like most things in life I do expect that a little rain must fall but no one warned me I would have benefited greatly from building an ark. I lost both my parents in 2017. My dad on the 2nd day in January and my mother in May on my birthday. They had been married 56 years, 4 months, 26 days. As with any loss the "firsts' of birthdays, holidays or special occasions are particular hard but when it comes to Christmas... well that was my mother's favourite time of the year and her absence is resoundingly deafening.
So how do you do it? How do you find the joy in the holiday season after losing someone you have loved so very much?
This time of year can be so beautiful. That's what can make it so hard.
Christmas lights, wrapped gifs, the aroma of baking gingerbread, goodwill towards men and the promise of a newer and brighter year. You cannot miss it, it is everywhere. But when you have lost someone the hole they have left has the power to suck you in and swallow you whole blackening even the brightest Christmas light. As I said, it was my mother Elena's favourite time of year. She was the breathing and walking spirit of Christmas. She embraced it entirely. She watched all the holiday movies and would always call me to tell me when "It's A Wonderful Life' was on, even when I was living in a different country. She had the most beautiful Christmas tree ornaments and it was like each one had a special meaning or story. She would savour her seasonal Starbucks Gingerbread Latte. She even loved Christmas music especially when the balalaikas played. This time of year for my mom, once a poor Russian post-war immigrant was magic, I mean literally MAGIC.
The magic came through in a host of many little things but for us where it shone its brightest was when the entire family gathered round the table for the "feast"... and let me tell you there was food. Elena would layer her caviar pie, bake her beef wellington, poach her salmon, whip her hollandaise, mash her potatoes and caramelize her incredible crème brûlée. We would gather as a family but it was rarely just family. Anyone who did not have a place to go on Christmas Day found a place at our table.
One year a police officer who had pulled my sister Victoria over for speeding joined us for Christmas dinner.
Victoria was late for dinner (as she has been known to be from time to time) and showed up with the cop to get herself out of a Christmas Day speeding ticket, which she did successfully I might add. I think she also might have brought him so my parents couldn't be angry for her being late. Hard not to be anything but relieved when your child is standing at your doorway with a police officer. My mother made room, she always made room.
There was laughter, singing and food that could serve the neighbourhood...and sometimes it did.
My father approached the holidays from a different perspective. He had to, all the traditional perspectives were covered off by my mom.
He added laughter, his own unique brand. Aside from his one-liners that were as old as he was (some even older) my dad had a way of finding some weird gift that he would find hysterical.
My most memorable gift from "Santa" was when I was about ten.
I received a little German crossing guard sign that read on one side, "Go Fart". Losely translated I believe that was the "go' side of the crossing sign. I can still hear my father's laughter right now as he looked at my puzzled little face as I opened that gift. He roared with laughter, Go Fart Christina.
Impending Empty Chairs
I am fearing the impending empty chairs at the Christmas table this year. Maybe you are too. Feeling the loss of someone who will not be at your table. I cannot replicate my mother's Christmas spirit and I don't think I have the same keen eye for Christmas "giving" as my father but I will celebrate them as best I can this year doing things differently with my daughters in London and with some new friends as I gratefully fill a open seat around their table.
I will find five things everyday that I am grateful for and say them out loud.
I will give thanks to my parents for their love and generosity. For if they were not in my life then that would have been the real loss.
And finally....I will give myself permission to be happy this Christmas...and sad.
I will lift myself up to that place where my parents showed me love, where my mother taught me empathy to strangers and where I will recover from it all in the humour and laughter my father found in even the most simple of circumstances. As we raise our glasses to toast them remember this, they are not merely echos of a time now gone. They are with us, they are in us...they are who we have become.
And just hopefully this Christmas I will be gifted with the one thing you can't put under the tree... the joy and love of the season my parents had created.