One of my best friends once whispered, “Isn’t she over that by now?” No. I was crying. It had been years, but grief is never over. There are times when you think you’re finally in a good place. Then SLAP you in the FACE. Christmas.
You don’t just miss your loved one. You miss their role in the traditions.
Maybe it’s not Christmas for your family, but I remember my childhood Christmas Eve traditions quite clearly. They were abruptly ended when my grandpa, and then my father passed away 8 months apart from one another. The grief from losing the patriarchs in your life as a 10 year old girl doesn’t ever stop. It changes the narrative a little girl tells herself. The future she dreams of is quickly rewritten.
Christmas was rewritten. It became a difficult time for me. Especially when it comes to the word TRADITION.
How do you deal with the death of a tradition?
I can honestly say I am unpacking my grief as I write this, and I haven’t had a Christmas in my grandma’s basement in 24 years.
Christmas Eve was a boisterous event in Grandma and Grandpa Monson’s rambler. Our Swedish Christmas Eve included Lutefisk I didn’t look at since I could smell it, Swedish meatballs, rice pudding with lingonberries, and lots and lots of lefse. After unsupervised, massive consumption of cinnamon and sugar on buttered lefse at the kid table, it was collapsed and pushed aside in preparation for the space needed during gift opening. Everyone circled up around the living room. Before any gift wrapping was peeled back, Grandpa cleared his throat and read The Christmas Story from the Bible. No microphone needed, as he opened to the book of Luke and shared the story of the greatest gift.
His words rang true.
Presents were then passed out, and grateful hugs were given. When all the gifts were opened we would go around and share what we got from whom. I don’t remember being impatient though. We all oohed and awed. We would also go around and update everyone on each branch’s family news. We have cassette recordings from some years. Updates on jobs, old clunkers still running, and kid milestones. My parents started the tradition of passing on the “diaper pail” when they were done having kids. They put all the names of couples in the diaper pail and drew a name to the lucky winners. Then suddenly there would be bells ringing, and my siblings and I would race up the stairs to find Santa gifts at the door. I still don’t know who rang those bells… I mean…Santa clearly!
We would also go caroling in the neighborhood. I remember singing and hearing harmonies among our musical family. Doors opened and we were offered cookies. I rode on my cousin Tim’s shoulders one year. I could see my breath with each verse in the streetlamp’s glow.
I think of my Monson Christmas as a great Hallmark movie. It is my ghost of Christmas past. It’s a beautiful and joyful image of a family celebrating their love for one another and their faith.
These memories have left me in tears tonight.
I can usually stay in the “be grateful it happened” state of mind, but there are a couple quiet nights in December each year when grief over “what once was” washes over me. I wish I had been fortunate enough like my cousins to bring my husband to Grandma’s house for Christmas Eve. Or I wish my children could hear Grandpa read the Christmas story. I get nostalgic for 4 part harmonies during Christmas carols and hymns. I remember love from decades ago that I can’t reach out and touch physically, but my heart is there in a Christmas light twinkle.
And so I look ahead at this Christmas season and I realize it’s time to face Christmas Present with new traditions. Attempts in previous years have been futile. Blending my husband and my own family traditions, as well as one being an all out extravert and the other an introvert, isn’t so easy. I also haven’t planned too carefully. Maybe a bit of self-sabotage. I know my own grief from having a year-after-year tradition ripped away. What if I can’t give my children a tradition for the long haul? This grief is something I’d rather spare them.
But there are some traditions we can keep without too much planning. Maybe instead of SLAP me in the FACE, Christmas past can come alongside the present. Not haunt, but guide our family traditions in the present. It’s time I rewrite my Christmas narrative. I wish for my kids to have their version of a Christmas to remember, and hold tight to over the years. My husband has read the Christmas story on Christmas Eve each year so far. Short of stockings and a tree, that is our most consistent tradition.
It’s a good place to start.