Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Ghost Writer ......


...... of Christmas Past.

I know that most of you out there wish this day was just an ordinary day.  Just the 25th day of December, no more, no less.
Actually, I know that most of you wish that you could've fallen asleep around December 22nd or so and stayed asleep until January 2nd.  Or February 15th.
I get that.
All too well.

In honor of all of us, I decided to go through my blog and give you posts of my past Christmases. Christmases that have occurred in my "after".
Maybe you'll relate to one or two of them.
Maybe you won't.

But here they are, for whatever they're worth.
I hope they help.

Year One:
"Let's Be Honest ......"

...... not everyone likes Christmas.

    Let me clarify.  It's not Christmas itself.  I mean, I'm thankful for Christ's birth.  I'm great with setting aside a day to be extra thankful for that and to remember that without this birth my life would be very black indeed.  I'm grateful that this birth gives me the gift of hope --- and the knowledge that I will be with Jim again.

     But I have oh-so-recently arrived on the "other side".  The "outside looking in" side.  And the people on the outside do not like Christmas.  Not the event, but the season.  Or more specifically, the way Americans celebrate the season .... starting before Halloween.  
     I've always been aware of the 'outside people', but since we're being truthful here, I didn't give them a whole lot of thought.  Of course we've donated to charities, we've worked for the homeless, we've bought gifts for families who had none, etc. etc. etc.  But once I'd done that, my attention shifted to MY family, MY shopping, MY celebrating, MY plans.  The thought that one day I'd be an 'outside person' never entered my head.  Never.
     Yet here I am.  Looking at the "joy" and the commercials and the shoppers and the commercials and the decorations and the commercials and the people who feel pressured to go out among the millions of crazy people shoppers to get one more gift.  Or maybe two.
And now I see, really see, for the first time, what a mess we make of this holiday holyday.  It's like my eyes had some kind of film over them "before".  The same film that millions of people have over their eyes.  Or is it thousands of people?  Or hundreds?  
     I'm not sure what's worse:  to have had the film and then have it torn away, or to never have had the film in the first place.
     My eyes now see how many there are of us on the outside.  I didn't see them before.  And now I am one of them.  And there are hundreds of them.  Or is it thousands?  Or millions?  There are more than you know.  Many of them clamp those masks on for this time of year, so they're harder to identify.  But I see them.  Most of them anyway. 
    I see the people who have no family.  No one to "celebrate" with.  No one that looks like the people in the commercials.  
     I see people who have "family" but cannot, choose not, should not spend time with people who don't deserve the title of "family".  
    I see people who have nothing -- who feel and see the pressure of "celebrating", but can't afford it.  And then feel worthless because they can't make their family look like the ones in the commercials.
     I see people who have only one thing in their life .... because that one horrible thing has pushed everyone and everything else out of it.  They don't want this thing, but don't know how to free themselves of the demon that it is.
     I see people who are angry.  I see that they were hurt first, and then became angry.  And that anger is their shield of protection to push everyone away.  They don't have anyone to "celebrate" with, but they also don't have anyone close enough to hurt them.
     I see the people like me -- the ones who's hearts are torn apart and hurting.  The ones who's bodies feel so heavy that smiling is exhausting, let alone "celebrating".  The ones who wonder if they'll ever want to "celebrate" again.
     But then I remember this holyday.  And what it's supposed to be about.  What it's really about.  
 I know that the film will never grow back over my eyes.  
But I think that's a good thing.

And I hope that my heart, though it will always hurt, will hurt a little less.
And I know that's a good thing.
Year Two:
December 27, 2009
"It's the Most Wonderful Time ......"

..... of the year.
Or not.
I wonder why we have three such huge holidays slapped right up against each other?  Who was in charge of that?!
I mean, really?  We (read: "outsiders") just get through the whole "being thankful" thing and then, a few weeks later we manage to barely get our head above the crashing waves of Christmas.  But we do.  We tread water and manage to survive the waves as best we can.
And then ..... just when we think the waves may be subsiding ...... the tsunami of New Year's roars in.
For us "outsiders", there is nothing ....... (well, other than that pesky 14th day of February) ..... worse than New Year's Eve.  
And I think that we make the "insiders" very, very uncomfortable.  They don't know what to do with us on those two days ..... so they don't.  
I can't say as I blame them.  
I envy them.  
I hope they realize how blessed they are.
I hope they don't take for granted how blessed they are.
And I hope they have a wonderful New Year's Eve.

And maybe toss a lifesaver out into the waves once in a while.
Year Three::
December 22, 2010

"You Should Be Happy ......"

.... is what someone told me last night.
Actually, the entire sentence was .... "All of your children are home.  You should be happy."
I felt like I had been slapped in the face.
I was on the phone, explaining to this person, through tears, that I was feeling sad.
And that sentence was the response I got.

Most people would probably agree with that statement.
But you who read this blog are not "most people".
Thank God.

My response was to almost yell into the phone, "Don't tell me that!  Don't tell me what I should be feeling!"
There was quiet on the other end.  But no apology.  No attempt at an explanation.
I said, "I AM happy that the kids are home.  But it's very bittersweet.  Yes, we're all together.  But we're not ALL home.  Jim is not here and that makes me sad.  Very sad.  Yes, even after three stinking years it makes me sad."

It's been a difficult week.  I'm content one minute, in tears the next.
I don't remember being this emotional last year, but then I AM a widow and so my memory is not what it once was.
I AM happy to have all of the kids here.  And so very grateful.
But the presence of seven of us is a huge reminder that there are not eight.
Just like the stockings that are hanging over our fireplace.
This is the first year that I did not add Jim's.
It just seems too painful to constantly see it there.
The stockings are such a visible reminder that he is not .... visible.

So yes, maybe in the eyes of some people I should be happy.
I am blessed.  My children are all healthy and they are all home.
I have many loving family members and friends.
I am financially secure.
I should be happy.

And I usually am now.

But this week, this month .... I am sad.
And there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

Except ignore the ignorant, thoughtless words of people who don't know what the hell they're talking about.
Sounds like a plan .....
Year Four:
December 24, 2011
"I Have a Love/Hate Relationship ......"

.... with Christmas Eve.
Actually, I'd love to say that I weigh in heavier on the love side, but I don't think that would be true.
And I hate that I hate some of it.

Every year we go to one of the Christmas Eve services ..... and then we go to dinner with friends.
And every year I sit there and cry through most of the service.

Every year at least one person stops me after the service and says, "Are you ok?"
And every year I say, "No."
Sigh .....

It doesn't get easier.
It just ..... is.

I dread going to church on this night.
But I can't imagine not going on this night.
It's part of Christmas.
It always has been.

Staying home wouldn't do anything ..... it wouldn't make me feel any better.
It would just make one night different .... one night that should probably stay as much the same as possible.

And so .... it does.
I hope one day I will love it again.
At least more than I hate it.
Year Five:
December 22, 2012
"December 22, 2012 ...... A Date That Will Live ......"

...... in my memory.

This is the day ...... the very first day in 5 years and 5 days ...... that I have truly, unquestionably and finally ...... felt 100% happy.
Happy without reservations.  Happy without "if only".  Happy without having to add "mostly".

I have all 6 kids under one roof (although only momentarily because Son #2 has to leave shortly and Son #3 just returned home).  And we have two additional friends here, spending Christmas with us.
Nine stockings have been hung by the chimney with care.  Two dogs are frolicking around our family room (and I'm good with that ...... I'll soon have two more here permanently).  The beds are all full, as are two additional air mattresses.
The pantry and the fridges are full.  The games are out and ready to play.  The packages are wrapped (don't get me started) and under the tree ..... almost dwarfing the tree this year.  (The problem with doing all of your shopping on line is that you sometimes lose track of what you've bought .... and who's been ordered what.  I'll have to do a much better job next year).

It's been a very good day.  We didn't go anywhere.  Or at least I didn't.  Daughters #1 and #2 left to get a couple of presents and to go to the airport to pick up Daughter #1's friend tonight.
We've watched great classic movies.  And Harry Potter #3, which I don't consider a classic.  Not for quite a few years.

Son #2 came over after he got off work.  We all had pizza for dinner.  And a little wine. (OK, we ALL didn't have wine ..... 2 of the 9 are too young, much to their chagrin).  And momentarily, as soon as HP3 is over, there is talk of doing something called "Irish Car Bombs", which is a hugely politically incorrect name of some kind of "shot".
But I'm a game girl and willing to hang in there with the young people ...... for at least one of them.
And then praying I'm not upchucking all night long.

Tomorrow we will meet at Son #2's apartment and then go out for lunch.  Then we'll attend a Christmas Eve Service, and then come home for a home cooked meal.  We haven't decided what that will be yet, but most likely, Italian.  And maybe the start of a new tradition.


And so happy that I'm happy.
It's about time.
It's beyond about time.
It's been 5 years.
And 5 days.

Yes, I wish Jim were here.  But he's not.  And I can't do anything about that.  So I will enjoy who I have, while I have them.  And remember him and treasure his love and him ...... in my heart, where he'll always be.
So, in a way, he's here, too.

It feels so great to feel 100% happy.

Thank you to all of my loved ones, who've waited for this day with me.
Thank you to all of my readers ...... who've rooted for me and for the arrival of this day.
Thank you to all of you who are on this path with me, both ahead and a bit behind.
Don't lose hope.

While I know there will still be painful days, and still be tears that come from nowhere, I am still happy.
And that's very, very huge.
So there you go.  Five Christmases without him.  Today is number 6.  
And I can truthfully tell you, though while I wish with every fiber of my being, that he could be here, it's still going to be a good day.
He would want that.  As I would want that for him and for our children.
Christmas, just as every other day of the year, is not the same.
But that doesn't mean it can't be good ...... again.

It's been a long road.
A very long road.

For all of us.
Please know that today I am thinking about all of you.
And wishing you peace, love and contentment.
They might not come today ...... but they will come.
Please hang in there.  And hang onto Hope.
Because someone is on this road, right behind you, 
thinking, "If he/she can make it that far, so can I."

*T.A.N.W. = There Are No Words


  1. Beautiful! I am constantly catching myself asking "where am I with this heartbreak?!?!". Being 99 days into this new (lonely) life, I can see this journey ahead being a difficult one. I already ask myself where has everyone gone?!?! Knowing that they've gone back to living their lives and being on the inside. I never saw myself as an "outsider" before now, and now I can't see myself as anywhere else. Thank you for this peek into your journey - it gives me hope for the seasons ahead.

    1. Becca,
      I'm sorry that you're here, but glad that you are. Thank you for your kind words.
      I'm glad that you have Hope.

  2. Janine ~ Thank you.
    I had Christmas last night - it was beautiful in all/many ways yet. . .. there are no words for what it was not - that part is too big.
    One of my children decided not to come home, which was like a knife in the heart.
    I lay awake until three a.m. crying - and this is year three!
    I thought I will NEVER be happy again, because no matter all the shopping, wrapping, cooking, christmas cards all of it - the ONE I want is still gone.
    so . . . I told myself "maybe that is true and maybe its not" maybe its just a shitty year - maybe number three is the shitty year and it could get better. . . maybe
    So in the silent house this morning - just me and the dog and the dishes waiting to be put away I logged on to the one place I can go to that doesn't make me feel like I am losing my mind and happiness to grief.
    To find - I am just a few years early.
    Year five sounds good to me. I just have to keep walking, it's out there waiting for me - a Christmas that doesnt feel like this one.

    Thanks Janine ~ thank you for being here for saying the things so many of us need to hear. Thank you for being so honest. For your hope which has been at times a tether to life. Thank you for this Christmas message - be blessed.

    1. Dear Anon -
      I hate this for you. I hate all that your Christmas was not.
      But you've come a very long way, and who knows when you'll feel a difference? It very well could be next week, rather than at 5 years. That was just my time line, and if you ask me, it was too damn long. Not that it's over, but at least I'm a different me than I was 2, 3 and 4 years out.
      Maybe your next Christmas is the one waiting for you. I hope so.
      Thank you for your kind words, and for being here to hold on to Hope.
      Peace to you in this new year.

  3. Thank you its been six months, I have a long ways to go.
    so sad

    1. Oh dear Anon -- please don't think that it will take you five years to feel Hopeful once again. All of us here could write a completely different timeline. For some, Hope comes back much more quickly than it did for me. And it didn't come all at once, but in spurts. A day here, an hour there. But it still came. You are so fresh in your grief, please be kind to yourself and as patient as you can. Don't think on a linear level. We are all different and there is no set time for anything. You will grieve for as long as you need to grieve. Actually, you'll always grieve, in some way, but I promise that it eases. You'll slowly get stronger and able to carry your grief more easily. That could happen any time. Just live one day at a time, OK? One breath at a time and no more, until you can do more.
      Keep breathing.

    2. Janine thank you so much. I found this site a couple months ago but havent posted until i read your post. My husband age 66 battled cancer for 3 yrs. I battled for him when he couldnt battle anymore. I miss him every min. Of they day. I stayed n bed all day today. Just didnt want to be with family or friends.

    3. Rose,
      I'm so sorry that you had a reason to find this site, but I'm glad that you did. As crazy as that sounds, I know you get it.
      I'm also sorry for how long you've fought and grieved. I know that those of you who dealt with long illnesses started your grieving much earlier than those of us who lost our love suddenly. There's no comparing the two, they both suck equally. Grief is grief, but I hate that you've known the monster that is grief for as long as you have.
      Please know that it's ok to do exactly what you want/need to do, even if that's staying in bed all day. For several days. It's your grief and no one else's. No one can judge you, though many may try (and they're usually the one's who've never experienced this).
      You are safe here, and among friends. We share a bond that can't be broken.
      I hope that offers you a little bit of peace.
      Thinking of you tonight,

  4. Thank you so much for providing hope! This is my 2nd Christmas without my partner...and it hits me doubly as he was proud of his Ukrainian we celebrated Dec 25th and January 1st as well as his Christmas/New Years in January - so lucky me, I get it twice over. Oh, and my dad passed away on December 26th (several years ago) - happened to be my mom and dad's wedding anniversary and the December 26th before my partner passed, his aunt (and surrogate mom) passed away, and February 14th - well my partner's b'day was February 19th. So, I wish I could just delete December - February from my calendar. However, in reading your post, maybe there is hope in the future...I sure hope so, I hate the present, and remembering the past is just so heart wrenching...

    1. Anon,
      You have so many trigger days this season! I know that the past, as well as the present, is so very hurtful for you. My heart hurts for all of you who are so new here, even at your second Christmas.
      I'm glad that you could see the promise of Hope. It really is there. And you'll get there. Just take your time and be kind to yourself. You'll get here.
      Keep breathing.

  5. 4th Christmas w/o my love. Still so hard, but you give me hope, Janine, that it will get better. I certainly hope I can hang in there until it does, many days I doubt it. Watched our local midnight service on tv and cried thru it, remembering those past Christmas' when we were a part of it; can't imagine going in person. Will be waiting for next year.

    1. Cathy,
      Thank you for coming here and taking the time to comment. I'm grateful that I can give you Hope. You're closer than you think, I'm sure of it.
      Keep breathing.

  6. This is my third Christmas without my husband who was everything to me; the love of my life. The first Christmas without Rich I was in shock and numb. I felt like someone on the outside looking in through a window at others enjoying the holidays. Last Christmas was just as sad and very empty. This Christmas I feel devoid of any emotion. I look at the holiday lights, hear the holiday songs, and I see and feel nothing. Last night I woke up at 3:10 a.m. and watched the digital clock turn to 3:11 a.m., the time my husband's heart stopped beating because of a heart attack. I pray that next year is easier to get through.

    1. Anon,
      I'm so sorry for your pain. You've come a very long way, even though you can't always see that. I'm glad that you could come here today and see that there's Hope out there.
      Just keep breathing.

  7. are right about everyone having a different timeline...I am only at 20 months...this is 2nd Christmas without my husband of 5 years...who passed away from a very rare complication almost 20 months after a sucessful bone marrow transplant and being declared cancer free.
    I have always had difficulty with the Christmas holidays with the commercialism of the season and the fact that my mother died around Christmas years ago.
    My husband loved Christmas and worked hard to get me into the spirit of it all. Last year was Christmas number 1...a blur...
    Then suddenly this year around Thanksgiving I felt my heart change...I was feeling started thinking about Christmas expecting my sigh of dread...yet instead I thought of my John and how he worked so hard to make Christmas special for me.
    And I said to myself...I. am going to act as I feel....peaceful...joyful..grateful.
    How my John fought so hard to have the right to live......and I got the very distinct feeling that he was yet again kicking me in the butt telling me to LIVE LIFE.....yet at the same time remember him...telling me to live IN JOY and in PEACE...thru the many many happy memories....and to LIVE LIVING because John was not given the extra time like I have been given...the time he wanted so badly....
    So he is telling me to LOVE this LIFE and to Live It Like he would....not wasting it by NOT LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLEST.
    So though it is only my 2nd Christmas into this joy, at least for now, is feels good....because I want to honor what the love of my life live life...
    I grieve...I cry...I love...I remember...I honor.....I want to live what life there is left to live.

    1. JLD - Thank you for being such a faithful reader, and commenter. And thank you even more for sharing yourself here. I'm sure that John is very proud of you, and happy that you're choosing to love and live.
      We each have to get to the point where we are able to choose. For some, like me, the ability to choose took a long time. But once I realized that I finally had the strength to choose, I chose life ...... and fully.
      I wish that my time line had been different. I wish that I could've grieved easier. But it was what it was. And it is what it is for every one of us. Until it isn't.
      I'm so happy for you, and for your ability to honor John this Christmas. You have been blessed. Thank you for sharing that blessing with us.

    2. Janine...part of the reason my timeline might have been different is 1. My age..I will be 60 this next year and I know that life is so very short....even if you live to be the end looking back on the time we spend with our passed loved ones we realize how so precious life is.
      2. I work in hospice as a social worker...I see end of life issues everyday and I have learned more and more what I learned while watching my love of my life slip away from this short, quick and special the gift of life is....each day that passes can not be regained.....
      So I strive to actively choose to live life...though everyday I have to fight the urge to stay in bed with the covers over my head and wallow in my sorrow...and some days I do do that...and sometimes I just have to let myself do that...however less and less since the kick in the butt from John like I said in my post.
      When my John was told he had only days to live he talked about everything he loved about life and what he had wnated to still live for and he wished he could still do.....but would not.
      3. And my John told me to live not take life for granted like we both did...we took our future for granted.....I thought I would not be able to get back into the rhythum of living and to find the joy of breathing one breathe at a time.
      Thanks for all of your wonderful posts, Janine.

  8. Janine,

    I read your post earlier this morning, but just now commented. Thank you for your writings - I always appreciate your stories along with the other blogs posted here daily. And I also find so much support from the others who read and comment as well.

    My husband passed away suddenly on May 10, 2012 from a Pulmonary Embolism. We have two daughters (ages 20 & 16) so this is our 2nd Christmas without him. Last month, I told my co-workers that I was going to "skip Christmas" because I didn't feel like doing anything. I understand what one of the others readers said about deleting December - February from their calendar. I could do that with October - February because our wedding anniversary and my birthday are 10 days apart in October; Halloween; Thanksgiving; Christmas: New Year's; our oldest daughter's birthday on January 9; and then my husband's birthday on February 18.

    Last year in October, our two daughter's and I went to visit dear friends in California for a week and had a good time. I think it helped to get away, have something to look forward to, and then look at pictures from our trip later on. It really helped me. The only people who didn't like it were my late husband's family and I don't even care anymore. I choose what is best for me and my daughter's and have had to just "tune out" other people who think they know what is best, but they don't.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that around Thanksgiving this year (which I spent with my daughter and her boyfriend's family in Texas), I started to feel a little stronger. I started thinking about the holidays more, and in a more positive manner. I still haven't decorated the tree all the way, there are more photo Christmas Cards to send out and I did all my shopping on Christmas Eve), but I did it. I even went to our the 11:00 pm Christmas Eve Service last night and I feel stronger. So, even with all this rambling, I wanted to say that at 20 months out, even though the 2nd year started out harder than the 1st year, it seems to be getting a little better...

    My youngest daughter and I are also planning another trip to California in February to visit our friends and attend a celebrity/charity fundraiser event. So we are looking forward to the trip, which will also occur right around my husband's birthday.

    1. Leslie,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I'm glad that you've found a way to help you get through this season, and I thank you for sharing it with us. I'm always happy to hear about the ways that others are coping through this season, no matter where we fall on on the spectrum. I hope that you have have a wonderful trip to California and that you find joy in being with friends and celebrating your husband's birthday.
      Thank you so much for sharing your hope with us.

  9. Thank you - beautiful and very helpful...
    It has been 2 Christmases for me - My beloved died in August 2012... It has been long, too long..and yet I know I have more to do here on earth ...

  10. dear janine, this is my third christmas without my husband. january will be three years since he died. i have hesitated to say this for fear i might jinx the whole thing, but here it is: i had a good christmas. i was back in houston with my kids for the first two, but was afraid that if i didn't stay home for christmas and decorate and do the whole thing, i never would. so i stayed home and decorated. a friend helped me unpack decorations that haven't seen the light in 3 years. i asked another friend to help me get the tree up, and learned from that encounter that there are some people i will never seek emotional support from again. a better friend helped me get the tree up, and i was so pleased to find an ornament my daughter gave me the first christmas after harmon died, and the last ornament harmon gave me before he died. bittersweet but still wonderful. i had christmas dinner with good friends and a peaceful day, and my daughter and her husband will be here to see me tomorrow.

    i never would have believed it was possible. i feel like i have turned a huge corner, and while i am sure there are emotional days still to come, i had a good christmas. i want everybody out there to know there is hope.