A Merry Christmas?
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
This post was originally published on Medium in 2018.
When my dad died in 2011, my life changed dramatically. I wasn’t sure I’d ever enjoy many things the way I did in the past- most of all the holidays. For at least the 5 years before his death, we celebrated together and developed traditions- Thanksgiving at his house, Christmas Eve at ours or out and about in New Hope. We had big meals, lots of laughs and enjoyed being together along with his wife, Lisa and her family. After he died, I went through the motions for a few years until I pretty much gave up. I couldn’t find much joy in the season and did the bare minimum, including a year where I spent all of Christmas alone, because Paul had gone to Trinidad after his mother’s death. And I was really okay with it all. Though I sometimes felt guilt, railed at Christmas music and the seemingly pervasive happiness all around me, I do believe that it’s what I needed to do. I needed to find a new normal. And here I am 8 Christmases later, perhaps having found it. In the most abnormal and unpleasant way.
I’ve suffered from diverticulitis (a super fun intestinal disease) for years. It reached a fever pitch this year, much to my dismay. Paul rushed me to the ER 3 times, the last time resulting in a 4-day hospital stay. I had plenty of time to think during those 4 days- when I wasn’t being poked and prodded and given frustrating (and sometimes conflicting) information by doctors and nurses. And one of the things I thought about was how my relationship with food needed to change and how I had taken so much for granted for so long. I clearly had reached a new level of needing to be careful. It made me really sad to think of all the things I need to be on the lookout for or give up, but I also thought a lot about how lucky I am to have this life. It made me realize that nothing is a given, and things can change in an instant- even for me. I’m used to being strong, to being a doer and a fixer, and I had to let other people do things for me. And they did. I had to take a break (for the most part) from work and I could. Paul made sure I ate and rested, Hazel was happy to lay by my side. My brother and a few friends stopped over and took care of other duties, like cat care. I have good friends miles away who regularly asked what they could do and said they’d jump on a plane in an instant if I needed them. I don’t think I realized until then just how lucky I really am.
And so that horrible physical experience has had a profound effect on how I feel emotionally. I still get sad about food (and cheating this week has had some not-so-great effects), but I made a decision after I got out of the hospital to increase my focus on the good. I cried about Thanksgiving and not being able to eat freely at a big gathering and Paul suggested we stay home, make a meal I could enjoy and relax and have a nice day. And we had the most warm, wonderful day. We invited a friend who was in the middle of a move to join us (he’s also one of Hazel’s favorites), we talked, watched football and just had the most lovely day.
Our Christmas corn plant, dying poinsettia and non-blooming Amaryllis
Over the past few weeks, we’ve had Second Thanksgiving here with more friends, gone to a holiday party (happily!) thrown by friends and one thrown by my brother. I’ve listened to Christmas music almost constantly. We’ve done our own version of a Christmas tree. I’ve stockpiled little gifts for people I love and care about and bought big ones that aren’t generic gift cards for those I love most. Some days, I don’t even recognize myself. But, I like it. Despite the never-ending worry I have about eating, I am happy. I still miss my dad and would gladly go back in time, but I don’t find myself mourning what was as much as I am looking forward to what will and can be, including Christmas Eve dinner here with lots of food (including food I can eat, of course!), family and friends. Friends who love our dog, will make themselves comfortable, and enjoy the holiday with us.
When my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, he had a similar realization, I think. He became more open and loving. He became a softer, gentler version of himself and I do think he was happier for it. I know I was- even though he got very sick very fast, it was nice to have time with him this way. I still have quite a bit of work to do in the kinder, gentler department, but the joy I feel preparing food for people I love (despite the fact I can’t eat it), looking at pretty lights and my new addiction to Christmas music (which is FUN and uplifting and I don’t care what that says about me haha) feels like a good start.
Lest you think I have gone soft, I’m still mad about the loud upstairs neighbors and complain about them. Often.
Merry Christmas! 🎄