According to television and my Mother-in-Law, the holidays are upon us. Well, we knew that was going to be a bitch, didn’t we? (I’m using the royal “we,” perhaps in order to feel like I have company)
I wasn’t around for all that many holidays in recent years. Traveling with our daughter became tedious. Then it became expensive. Then we moved farther away and had another baby and things became even more tedious and expensive. My mother wasn’t hung up on the day, anyway. Sure, she would have preferred we spent Christmas with her, but she didn’t mind doing it a few days or weeks later. My Mother-in-Law is another story, demanding our presence on the exact date, even when it meant driving 8 hours in a snowstorm with our toddler. (Reason #36,874 why my mother didn’t like her)
Still, I was there as a kid, and even though we were atheists, we did do the tree-gift thing. Mom insisted. There were stockings. Mom would make a sweet tree-shaped bread for Christmas morning that took way too much effort, but she did it anyway most years. I always thought we had the perfect tree and a million presents, but looking back at family photos, the trees were often lopsided and sparse and the presents, so impressive to me as a child, were unremarkable in number. Still, it amazed me, and I try my damndest to pull off something similar for my own children, but usually fall short. My brother would sleep too late, then open his gifts (usually books) as slowly as possible. I swear he seemed to read every book cover to cover before moving on, which drove me NUTS. Dad had been Jewish and seemed to resent everything about the holiday, but I never saw him sneer at the turkey. My mother would serve a platter of pickles and olives that she alone would consume. I always had a cold. It wasn’t holy. It was just familiar and comforting.
I’m spending Thanksgiving with my in-laws. They’re making a bacon-themed dinner, again, even though my husband, a food writer, has written several articles about how the bacon fad has jumped the shark. Even though bacon has been linked to colon cancer, but of course that’s factual, so my MIL wouldn’t know that. Even though my Father-in-law died of a massive heart attack a couple years ago. Still…. bacon.
Not for my daughter, though. I promised her a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. She’s getting toast and pretzels, jelly beans and popcorn.
I’m not sure if seeing my MIL with my kids is going to hurt. I suspect it will. I’m not sure how the holidays will go, in general, but I anticipate plenty of pain. Or maybe things won’t be so bad, or at least no worse than every other day. Who’s to say? Like everything else involved in grieving, I have no choice but to take it as it comes.
There’s just something about it, you know? When it happens… when the thing you fear most, happens… when you find yourself living without the person you always said you couldn’t live without… when you know, instantly, that no day in your future, no matter how joyous or successful or peaceful, will ever really be as good as any day that came before your loss… you change. I know there will be happy moments this holiday season, but they will be bittersweet. Every smile will be followed with a sigh. If it snows, someone will say, “Mom would have loved this.” My daughter will accept a hug from my MIL and give me that look that says “I wish Grandma were here instead.” And somehow, I’ll get through it, knowing the only reward is a new calendar and the hope that the hurt will take a day off here and there.