People seem stymied that I still straight-arm attempts to send me ‘holiday cheer’. With each well-meaning effort I am gutted that some family and friends can’t seem to recognize the draining loss that he is not here now. Although milestone dates like our wedding anniversary and Valentine’s Day are tough, they do not have the 24 days of reminders barraging me up to the day. Only Christmas time, Dec 24th-30th (Rick’s birthday) is prefaced by 24 days of constant reminders of the week when I will feel the void the most, the worst. It seems that the only people that understand are bereaved spouses and parents, people that can’t imagine this time without their soulmate, or even more difficult, never anticipating this time without one of their children.
Rick & I met and quickly entered a courtship (his term) in the Spring of 2000. He was a 44 yr old bachelor, I was a 41 yr old divorced Mom of 3 sons (ages 8, 10 & 12 years). Christmas 2000 was just 26 days before our wedding. Rick was excited for his new role as Dad in attending the boys holiday events in school and scouts. He had also brought a box of Christmas decorations from the years when he had owned a home, and we added those to our decorations. A wonderful memory of our first Christmas is Rick savoring the family holiday activities and he mentioning he had waited so long to have a family at Christmas time. One of his ‘Insta-Dad’ traits was making time for us to quietly reflect and be grateful for our family, our health, the boys’ progress in school, in growing up. Many sweet memories of those talks, many times with just the glow of Christmas lights. From that first Christmas Eve when we finished our parental duties bringing out the presents, we would make time to sit on the sofa and quietly count our blessings.
Rick had a wonderful childlike exuberance around Christmas; outdoor decorating, driving around to see the lights, shopping for gifts and watching Christmas movies. He had boundless energy and in subsequent years I got used to his regular forays to home improvement stores, Target, Walmart and all our town drug stores to see what new lighted treasures had hit the shelves and would be added to our outdoor display.
It became a ‘cause and effect’ sort of dance, as Rick also loved to drive/bike through our town’s neighborhoods, to see how other residents were decorating for the holidays. Before long I learned that this was Rick’s way of ramping up to the holidays and there was such an unabashed earnestness that I found quite charming, and I discovered yet another quality I loved in him.
When the boys got older and no longer had school holiday activities Rick re-focused some of his energy on experimenting with making Christmas treats. He won a workplace dessert competition for his Caramel-wrapped, chocolate-dipped peanut butter pretzels and had many family and friends that were fans of his yearly treat.
And through it all, Rick loved to hear the classic Christmas songs. At home he would grab me in a hug, and we would dance a bit. While driving he would clasp my left hand and give it a squeeze as each new song started. I had always enjoyed Christmas but from 2000 on Rick added so much to our Holiday traditions, such a sense that we made an awesome team.
And that is why the month of December is hard for me. With every Christmas display, carol or even advertisement, it has a step or more of sadness as I march through the month. Many days I just want to pull the covers over my head, change my voicemail that I’ll return calls in January and avoid it all. I am trying different ways to proactively lessen the grief that seems to walk beside me in December, but it’s still both hard and heartbreaking. I lean into visiting the NorCal coast, where we always felt so connected. It’s familiar and soothing.