I skipped Easter for the second year in a row today. It just doesn’t seem like a day worth celebrating.
People will tell you that there’s a certain time period for you to gather your emotions and get them in order. I remember a few months after my ex-husband and I split up, I laid nearly comatose off my twin sized bed, listening to Celine Dion’s rendition of “All By Myself” on an irritating loop. My mother walked in, sat on the edge of my bed, hating my ex-husband from the moment they were first introduced and asked me why it was taking me such a long time to get over. All I heard from that conversation was that how I was feeling – this raw, ugly, defeating emotion – was pointless; that I should start getting over it.
As the years passed, I grew less and less angry over that conversation because hindsight is 20/20. I shouldn’t have wasted so much time and emotion over a man who didn’t love me. Right before she passed, I thanked her for that.
But losing my mom has ignited a new level of pain, a new level of grief. I never thought it was possible for my heart to be fused with so much pain. Most days are easy; holidays are hard. I think back to last year and how I didn’t spend one single holiday with my in-laws. It was to be expected that I’d spend every holiday last year with my dad as we embarked on holidays without a single familiar family tradition. I planned it out so that when I finally greeted that dreaded “one-year mark” that somehow it’d be a cure for my misery. Maybe I’d enjoy Christmas again or my birthday. I learned this morning that it’s not the case.
There is no timeline that guarantees when you’ll be done grieving, or when it’s time to embrace the traditions you once loved. There’s a lot of pressure I place on my shoulders each time a holiday rears its’ ugly head. I feel like I’m a bad daughter if I don’t visit my dad and try my best to make it a holiday he can remember happily. I feel like a bad daughter-in-law for continually skirting around dinner invites (especially those I’ve already said yes to). I feel like a bad wife for not supporting my husband in the way he’s supported me throughout this wretched year. I feel, in many ways, that I’ve failed when I get anxiety and panicked over the knowledge that I need to just take a day for myself. The presence of a holiday only adds fuel to that fire.
The death of a parent will take its’ toll on any relationship but the older you get, the more expected it is that you’ll be able to get through it. You expect your mother to die when you’re 46-years old (despite how much you wish the opposite). You don’t expect to lose your mom at 26. You don’t expect to lose your mom in the midst of wedding planning, before you have kids, when you’re still at that age when people look at you and sigh that “you’re just too young for this.” That kind of event changes the dynamic of your relationship.
The way I view holidays will never be the same for my husband. He will never know what it’s like to lose a parent when you’re 26, because he’s 31. I’m thankful that he can’t empathize with me. I lost that familiarity he’s experiencing right now as he chomps down on a well-done ham drenched in pineapple syrup, laughing with his parents, sister and extended family. Those kinds of traditions…they’re gone for me. I no longer have the luxury of going over my parents’ house for dinner, watching my mom cook and subsequently burn everything in the kitchen, sitting down, laughing, eating, talking, smiling. There will never be a time when I walk into that image in all the years moving forward. My dad won’t cook this big, tasty dinner for just himself and me. We’ll go to the diner. Maybe we’ll talk about my mom. Maybe we won’t. He’ll order ham, or liver and me, a bowl of chili. No egg hunts, no bowl of candy; we’ll mutter a nearly silent Easter greeting before moving on because the nostalgia of what we lack is too destructive.
When you’re in the midst of grieving, facing holidays are the worst. People who aren’t in that situation can only sympathize with the pain and hope that their sentiments make a difference. For those of us who live it, who feel trapped within the feeling, you’re allowed to celebrate (or not celebrate) not only the way you want to, but need to. There will be another holiday and as the months pass by, time does begin to heal your bitter wounds. You don’t need to walk around constantly carrying this baggage, of trying to be there for everyone who asks to share in your company. This whole losing a parent young thing blows. It sucks and there’s no unique way of saying that.
I’m a big advocate that holidays will begin feeling easier when I become a parent myself and I’m no longer looking at my mom to fill that role, because then, I’ll be able to carry on those traditions myself. The holidays will never be devoid of my memories, of my nostalgia; they’ll exist, buried down somewhere deep inside me. Until then, there is no rule-book; no defined way I need to act or need to adhere to. If I want to celebrate a holiday with family, I will. If I need to take a day, not acknowledging the time of year or cast aside that they day is special, then that’s just now – not forever.
Losing a parent is hard, and when you’re faced with the holidays and everyone wanting a piece of you like you’re the Easter ham, it’s okay to let the world know that you just want to keep the slice to yourself. You’re not alone in navigating this. It will get better, but don’t look down on yourself for when you’d just rather ignore all the happiness that the day represents.