The first season, it was the "Christmas spirit" that got to me most. That sugary, sickening, manic joy that everyone exudes. The high of celebration. The rush of commercialism. I couldn't even fathom the idea of celebrating anything without gagging. And the naked senselessness of the consumer craze was suddenly appalling to me in a way it had never been before. Trimming the tree? Stuffing the stockings? Black Friday deals???
WHO THE FUCK CARES THIS IS ALL BULLSHIT my head and heart screamed. MY CHILD IS DEAD FUCK YOU. My child is dead. My child is dead. My child is dead.
The constant sensory swirl was overwhelming to my very raw, completely exposed, blown-apart system. Too many happy, jangling sounds and spicy-sweet smells. Too many lights and colors. I wanted to set Christmas on fire. I wanted to bury it under a mountain of dog turds and piss on its grave. And I was ready to choke anyone who tried to talk to me about cookies or presents or decorations or family.
Looking back, it still feels like I barely survived that first holiday season. The thing that saved me was Skyrim. I literally gamed my way through a solid four months of hell. Anything to escape the reality I was trapped in. It was my son's blessed idea. It was Ev's favorite game, he told me. It would make me feel closer to her. And it did, a little.
The second season—last year—wasn't much better. Probably the biggest difference was the dread. Having been drug sick and bleeding through one holiday season, I had an inkling of what to expect. The panic began to build in early September, doubling by October, overwhelming me by November. I was at my lowest point at that time. I reached out for help, starting an antidepressant that made me worse instead of better. Being that it was our second go at this and the first year without her was behind us, I worried people expected more. I had the added anxiety of letting others down.
Avoidance was my tactic that time. I just kind of pretended none of it was happening. I kept a very narrow focus on the minute in front of me. I braved a store or two, and painted on a smile for the family and work get-togethers. I set bizarre goals for myself. Making individual batches of fudge for everyone at work. Putting lights up outside for the first time ever. I think I was trying to look the part. But inwardly, I was quaking. I fantasized about leaving town for Christmas, but I couldn't seem to get a real plan to congeal.
In fact, that ended up being my downfall—no plan. My counselor finally sat me down and said I had to come up with something. We were facing Christmas alone ... in our home ... where our child died. I posted a desperate plea on Facebook, and a high school friend came over with her fiance to spend the day with us. I will never forget what it meant to me to have them there, to have someone to focus on. I don't think I would have gotten out of bed otherwise.
Which brings me to today, this year, our third holiday season. It feels distinctly different this time. I am embracing aspects of the season more. I think I'm using them for distraction. Baking and shopping and decorating as if I can wrap enough tinsel around the hole inside to forget for a little while how much this fucking hurts. I don't openly hate people for their festiveness and cheer, just secretly, in a dark, brooding corner where I pack my unspent rage. And we are finally going away for Christmas, packing up and driving out that day, finding our way to a thick forest and a still lake. Somewhere the tears won't feel so out of place.
To be honest, there's a lot I'm looking forward to this season. Mostly the time with family. Because I know in a way so few do that these people won't be with me forever. That every moment in their presence is the real gift. I am savoring each and every person. I am drinking them in. Feeling grateful that when I stand next to someone I love, I feel a little less empty, a little less afraid. I want to honor them and spoil them and treasure them. I want to give them stupid gifts that say I see you, you matter. I want to bake them vegan cakes. I want to feed them love.
And even as all of this is spinning inside me, I am missing her with a tremendous ache, a pain so exquisite, so beautiful and tender, that it gushes out of me. Out of my eyes and nose. Out of my heart and throat. I don't need Christmas to be different this year. I don't need it to disappear. I just want to share it with her so badly. I want to take her by the hand and point out each ornament on our Evelyn Tree, telling and retelling her all the stories of herself, and how we love her, and how she loves us. I want to buy a stocking for her and fill it to the brim with everything purple, and unicorn, and Happy Potter, and RPG, and anime, and LGBTQ—everything Evelyn. I want to make her favorite meals and bake new recipes together and laugh when we screw them up. I want to worry about her driving home and sneak her glasses of wine and watch Bigfoot documentaries together and listen to her give her brother and sister a hard time.
In a way, it feels like progress is being made. Look, I don't want to murder people this time, the child inside beams with pride. But the progress is not in feeling less pain, it is in feeling more love. It leaves me wondering what my skin can hold. How much more intense emotion can be crammed into one human being before I erupt? A Mt. Vesuvius of feelings that floods everyone and everything around me.
Here is my advice to you this season:
If you are grieving someone, love everyone else harder in their place.
If you are not grieving someone, love everyone around you as if it is your last moment together.
It's sound advice for any day, any time of year, no matter the season.