A few months ago I proclaimed that I was "Reclaiming the Holidays". This was our fourth Thanksgiving and Christmas without Sue, and I had a plan to use the power of positive thinking to keep me from wishing the season away. I had plans to use every tool I had to enjoy myself rather than hide in bathrooms, crying my eyes out.
I think I did a pretty good job. I worked hard to keep my attitude in check. I maintained an internal dialogue about how everything I was experiencing should be looked at as a gift. My first gift came in the form of Sue's oldest, home from college for a visit. We went running together, had a movie and lunch date, and had many good conversations. It's hard for me to put into words how thankful I am for my relationship with him. In fact, my relationship with all four of her kids has done more to heal the gaping hole in my heart than anything else.
We had a big "All Cousins Sleepover" to celebrate Sue's youngest daughter's 11th birthday, a tradition that started before we lost Sue. It was wild, crazy, loud, and oh.my.gosh do nine kids eat a lot! Her other daughter (now 13) also has a close-to-Christmas birthday, so we celebrated that in a quieter, girls-only sleepover here at our house.
Much like when Sue was alive, there was a lot of kid-swapping over Christmas break. The cousins spent enough time with each other to get sick of each other and start acting like siblings. It amuses me when that happens. I hope as they grow up and start leaving home, they maintain that closeness.
In the midst of family gatherings and activities, I became an official Red Cross volunteer and worked at my first two day-long blood drives. One was at the local fire station, and the other at the high school. At the blood drives I was surprised and happy to discover another gift: I can now share Sue's story without crying. I was able to tell her story to many donors. Several people shared with me that they never really knew anyone who benefitted from blood donations, so Sue's story inspired them to keep their regular appointments. Two first-time donors hugged me and said that they are now donors for life after hearing her story. I am so inspired to continue my work with the Red Cross, and tell everyone far and wide the importance of blood donation!
There was so much good over the holiday season, but of course there is sadness. It is a quieter kind of sadness now. No, I didn't hide in a bathroom to have a breakdown (a huge victory! I did have some weepy moments but never in a bathroom!), but there were empty chairs at our holiday tables. No amount of positive thinking can change that. There are four kids who opened their presents on Christmas morning with no mom to watch their smiles. There was no post-holiday phone call from Sue to me, in which we discussed how THIS Christmas, surely was the best one yet!
No, what we are left with here is a different kind of Christmas. It was, like I'm finding with all big events now, a heart-twisting mash-up of joy and sorrow. I know that for the rest of my life this will be the case: those chairs will be empty. For the rest of my life my heart and mind will flutter between the precious memories of the past, the "what could have been" images of how life might be if we hadn't lost Sue, and the bright, beautiful here and now. I have so much hope for the future.
I hope, dear reader, that you found hope and joy this holiday season, no matter what trials you are facing. And if you spent time crying in a bathroom, know that I'm proud that you came back out and kept trying to find the good. There really is so much good.