Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Parties: Third Time's The Charm

Somewhere between suffering that terrible first Christmas party alone and “Whoo hoo! It’s a Christmas party!” was my last weekend. This is the third holiday party season without my Angel holding my hand (and likely suggesting I wear a different shirt.) I had been dreading the holiday parties but my anticipation of misery far exceeded reality. I was both surprised and relieved.

Last Friday was Maggie’s 36th birthday. In our previous life together, we would have celebrated her birthday by throwing a tremendous party here at our house on Saturday night.

You can’t imagine the festivities and the joyousness (read: drunkenness and debauchery.)

A couple hundred friends from multiple social circles would join together for a night of raucousness, gluttony and full-on drinky drinky. Maggie would spend days preparing this absolute ridiculous spread of cheeses, dips, meats, sweets, cracker-these and basil-thats. There were servicing dishes, pastry dishes, hot dishes and cutting boards filled with gastronomical adventures that people would inhale, praise and ask about for years following (“Hey, Maggie, what was the name of that cheese with the blah-ditty blah blah?” Amazingly, she’d always remember.)

And there was cake.

The party would always rage until way past 3AM.

The next-day cleanup was really a next week process. Not surprisingly, it typically took more than a few weeks to get the smell of beer and food out of the house. But it was fun.

You can’t imagine the huge smile that beautiful woman wore as she floated around the friend-packed room. It was her heaven. And to see her that happy was mine. Perfect.

So here I sit, nearly three years after her Angel Day. Two parties have sprung up out of the absence of ours, both hosted by close friends. Neither party is related; there’s no mention of our party, or even a mention of Maggie and really there shouldn’t be. They are just regular ol’ Christmas parties. The huge group of people has divided, too, and a large group of those who used to attend our parties don’t come to either of the new parties. But I am always invited to both – one on Friday night and one on Saturday.

Last year, my attendance at both of these parties was torturous. Here they were, all these folks who just two years ago were at our house at our party celebrating Maggie’s birthday. Now, here they were, laughing like no one is missing, all happy with their living spouse and happy future. Then there’s me. I hated pretty much every minute. But I put on my party face and smiled until I felt the tears about to break through. I’d dash quickly off to the bathroom or a bedroom and let them rain down until I had control again. Then I’d put my party face back on and pretend it was a happy holiday season. After all, what’s not to be happy about?

But this year was different. I dreaded both parties (I even finally decided to attend one at 10:15PM that night!) But this year the tears didn’t come. Not once did I excuse myself or cover up my watery eyes. Yes, I missed my Maggie but it wasn’t terrible or overpowering. It wasn’t unbearable. It just was the same ol’ everyday pain. In fact, I actually kinda enjoyed seeing some of the ol’ friends again. It had been a while since I’d seen some of them. A year, in fact.

The third time’s the charm. That’s how the saying goes, right?


  1. Chris- I had to face my first party of the season last weekend. I forced myself to go because it wasn't going to be a party of old friends or even people that I knew that well. I pulled up and sat in the car trying to get the nerve to walk in, face everyone, smile and say, "Merry Christmas", act all happy to be here etc. I chickened out, called my neighbor who lost her husband 5 weeks before me and walked in with her. This weekend it's party two and three. I'm already dreading it. But I know that I have to force myself. I'll be with good neighbors who love me, loved Michael and walked with us through 4 years of cancer. Hey, I might even have fun. But for me... it's the fearful anticipation. I hope that this feeling fades in years to come. I want to go but I don't want to go. I want to be with people but I want to be left alone. I want to be included but I don't want to feel obliged to attend. I want to be happy but I don't want to deny my feelings and be so fake. Does this make any sense? To all of you, I know that it does.

  2. What a great post Chris! My husband's birthday is 12/11 and we always celebrated it with an "egg nog making party". Last year, the first without him, we went ahead and hosted the party. Unfortunately, it proved to be way too difficult with way too many tears. This year we just couldn't muster up the energy to do it.

    Thanks for imparting upon me that all important feeling of hope..... the third year may be the charm!

  3. Smiling just thinking of you and your "third time charm".
    This makes me happy.

  4. I have boycotted Christmas since my wife died. Maybe it's time for me to test the waters again. Great post, thank you for sharing!

  5. Chris, my husband died in July. For 7 years, we spent our Thanksgivings in Branson, MO. I knew I had to take my 9 & 13 year old somewhere else for Thanksgiving so we went on a cruise & made wonderful new memories. I dreaded Christmas, his favorite holiday but agreed to spend it w/another family at Disneyworld but before I left our Sunday School class insisted I attend our annual Christmas party, my first.
    As I walked in the door, the hostess announced that I would be seated next to so & so b/c she, too, was "spouseless" that night (her husband was out of town). The feeling that someone had punched me in the stomach overwhelmed me. As I look back I wish I had thrown up, on the hostess. As the night progressed, I met a newcomer, a divorcee. We talked about our children and I thought I might just make it. She asked if I had a picture, which I did b/c I was going to take a picture from our cruise and make our first Christmas card from it. You see, my children and I "swam" with the stingrays in the Caymans & that was the only picture that I could think of to show our friends that we were doing OK & having fun. Mrs. Hostess walked up behind me, glanced at the picture of me (42) my children, 9 & 13 & our guide, a 19 year old native (holding up the enormous stingray from behind us) and asked if the guide was my new boyfriend. Needless to say, I left the party in tears, didn't send out any Christmas cards and left the church. I am proud of you for making the three attempts and for writing about Christmas parties.

  6. Thank you for the post. I too can not deal with parties, I still have no desire to go any parties and everyday life takes a lot of my energy, I'm not going to push myself into situations that will just tear me apart. Going to work and trying to get thru the holiday with family is enough that I can or want to handle. I didn't attend my work party (again) and though I was questioned why not - they looked at me not understanding at all that I wasn't over it by now to want to join in the festivities -so I lied that I had another engagement - just easier than putting extra stress and pain on myself.......maybe someday it'll change - just not there yet.

  7. Thanks for the post, it gives me some hope that this stabbing pain of the holidays will someday be bearable. This will be my first Christmas since I lost my husband 6 months ago and I have found December to be a miserable month. I tried to cram three parties into one weekend to get them all over in one swoop. The first night I had my hair done, makeup done, dress on, the whole shebang. I 'looked' ready but I just could not get myself out of the house because I couldn't stop crying about not having him to go with, to hold my hand and make quiet between-the-two-of-us jokes to me all night long. I cancelled the sitter at the last minute and spent the night missing him instead. The next night I did make it with a tearburst right before walking into the party. Nobody spoke a word of my husband and that hurt. After 2 hours I bolted. The third party was a family party and I held it together up until Santa came in and all the kids gathered around him. My husband's partner from the fire department sat in the chair where my husband sat last year with his son on his knee, the same way my husband sat last year with our son on his knee. I slowly crumbled in the midst of the whole party. I didn't make it to the washroom. The whole room witnessed it (except for the children, thank goodness). I'm not sure I have the fortitude to even try going to one next year. I can't wait for this month to be over.

  8. For those who have not experienced a loss, they cannot understand how we possibly just can't move on in life and enjoy holidays again. As you all know, it just isn't an easy thing to do; the sounds, the sights, the smell etc all bring back so many memories that we just cannot handle. So, I try to give everyone some slack, and hope they will do the same with me.

    I'm glad you could at least enjoy seeing some of your old friends at the party, Chris. Maybe they will continue to be there for you in the coming year. Sad that you have not had contact since the last party. Many of our/my friends have seemed to have forgotten me, too.

    We, too, were the ones to host parties, lots of food and music, everyone having a great time. I miss those, and no one has taken the ball and tried to do the same. Not that I would go yet, but it would be nice to get an invite now and then.

    In the 2 Christmases without my husband, I have learned to do what you think is best for you regarding parties. And mostly for me that is to decline graciously, either saying I have other plans, or attend for a short duration, leaving early, explaining of other plans also. Those other plans usually include only myself, but who needs to know that.

  9. I feel for you Chris. Next Friday is Dave's birthday. It's my second Christmas without him. And I'm going to a Christmas party that night. (A small gathering with about 12 friends - our 4rth Annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.)

    I don't expect others to stop enjoying life because he's gone. And I know I need to keep living life if I ever hope to start enjoying it again.
    And what else am I going to do that night - other than cry and feel sorry for myself, and wish I had gotten out of the house?
    At least I'm with friends and they'll likely raise a glass in his memory.
    I just HATE being a downer though. It's sometimes inevitable though. The veneer cracks and a few tears are shed when somebody just walks up and hugs me. I just hate that look of pity and the awkward few moments where nobody knows what to say. I usually try to break it by laughing through the tears and jokingly giving somebody shit for making me cry.

  10. To Paula above..I wish you had thrown up on her also. How unfortunate that there are such ignorant people in the world. I don't expect everyone to get it, but she sounds like she is WAY over the top in terms of insensitivity. I am at two years now, and often feel like I am getting into the groove of moving on, but Christmas is kicking me down in a big way. There is just no getting around it. It slams me in the face. As of today, I have a tree up with no decorations or lights as of yet, just started shopping today (which lasted only two hours before it exhausted me), have not sent out a single card, and I care/don't care. I'm at the point where I've been sustaining this grief for two years, preceded by six years of caretaking, and am increasingly feeling like I just want somebody to take care of me (I know, whine, whine). Honestly, I've been carrying alot for a long time and would love to have a soft place to fall (quote from Dr. Phil). Which was my previous life, and my husband, and his arms, and his everything. At this stage I have really been missing a sense of comfort, which doesn't exist for me anymore. Hope I get the lights on the tree before it doesn't matter anymore.