Three days a year loom over me like monstrous shadows from a closet in a dark room. I can close my eyes, and I still know they’re there. I think I could be trapped on a deserted island with no sense of time, and I would know these days when they arrived. My husband, meanwhile, makes note of them on his calendar, and sometimes I feel he does this only to be forewarned of my thrice-yearly insanity. Because that is what it feels like, still, sometimes, even after all these years. Moreso, after all these years.
I can sometimes busy myself out of the December grief anniversary. It’s the holidays, jam-packed with stuff to do. If I’m down, no big deal, everybody gets down and stressed this time of year. It’s easier to hide. Some years, it’s just a slight dread of the Christmas tree, which I can slough off easily. It’s even been a couple of years since I’ve had a panic session over dropping/losing/breaking one of our special angel ornaments. But this year. This year I had no idea was going to hit me as hard as it has. And here I am, feeling sad, and crazy, and broken, and alone.
I have a complex about the Christmas tree. I realize this sounds crazy. The tree has always been my favorite part of the holidays. The fresh scent of evergreen, the presence of the woods in my living room, the soothing, magical glow of the lights. So I resent that I have this irrational dread of putting up the tree. But for the past twelve years–twelve years!–I have dreaded this lovely tradition. My first miscarriage started while decorating the tree. And it will never be the same. I get stressed, I get cranky, I get needy, I get fanatical about our collection of memorial ornaments. I want it to be a lovely family event, but find myself snapping at the kids, nearly hyperventilating if I drop an ornament, demanding my husband’s presence in a way that seems irrational. Only it isn’t irrational. I know it’s not. Because of my years at Empty Arms, I know these feelings are real, I know they’re normal, I know I’m not the only one. And yet I still feel crazy. I still feel I shouldn’t be so needy, I shouldn’t ask for what I need, I should just be normal, already! It’s a tree, for heaven’s sake!
And then I feel like a hypocrite, because I would tell (and have told) numerous other people in our group that it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to do or not do whatever we need for our own well-being. And I believe it, and I wish it for everyone I meet who has been where I am. And I know how many of you go on and do what is expected, struggle through gatherings you would really rather not, extend yourselves to your own detriment, because it’s what mothers do. And daughters. And wives. And I do it myself. I did it yesterday, putting off the tree another day, signing myself up for another day of dread and expectation, because I didn’t want my husband to miss out on something else he wanted to do. And I feel stupid, for putting myself last, for not honoring the way I feel, for making this holiday struggle a harder one. But today, I’m hoping to make up for that a bit by writing this, by sharing my own crazy, in hopes it will help you with yours. In hopes you will be kinder to yourself than I have been to myself.
Happy Holidays seems an inappropriate wish. Be happy if you can, be sad if you need to, be angry if necessary. And, on the Winter Solstice, be content in knowing that we are halfway out of the dark of the year, and one day farther in the journey through the darkness of grief.