Monday, November 21, 2011

Terrible Twos

The holidays are upon us again.  As anyone who has lost someone dear to them can tell you, there is a definite difference in the way you view the impending celebrations and traditions after someone you love dies.  A lot of people will tell you that the hardest part is getting through all the "firsts" -- the first birthday, first anniversary, first set of holidays without your loved one.  I've also read more than one piece of grief literature that suggests the second year is often harder.

This is going to be my second year of being a widow during the holidays.  Last year was awful.  I expect this year to be very difficult as well, though for different reasons.

Last year, I remember crying my eyes out at Easter when my uncle thanked the Lord for our family's blessings during the pre-meal prayer.  I didn't feel particularly blessed or thankful, having been widowed a few months before.  When the winter holidays rolled around -- as well as my birthday and Brian's birthday, both in December -- I had been widowed longer and was beginning to adjust to life without Brian, but I still found little joy in the holidays.  I remember feeling empty, like I was just going through the motions.  I remember feeling so alone on Thanksgiving, despite being surrounded by family.  That night, I couldn't get excited about Black Friday shopping plans.  "I don't even want Christmas to come," I sobbed to one of my aunts.  Still, Christmas came and went.  I attended all of the numerous celebrations hosted by Brian's family and my own, just as we normally would have done.  Though I was in the process of moving to Austin, I planned things so that I would be in Iowa for each family celebration (I traveled something like 8,000 miles that month by car, commercial air, and private flights).  I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Texas, and was able to enjoy spending time with friends and family in Texas, as well as the simple act of waking up in a new apartment on Christmas Day.  I loved that apartment and, to me, it signified that there were good things to come in my life in a new place, even without Brian.

This year, I have someone special to spend the holidays with.  While that is a wonderful thing, it also means things will change, yet again.  It cements the fact that my life has changed forever and that I'm no longer walking the same life path as I was when Brian was alive.  It really drives home the fact that he is gone, that I have to let go of the expectations and plans I had for our lives together.  If he were alive, we'd almost certainly still be in Iowa, and we'd go to all the family celebrations like we always did.

That's not an option for me anymore. If I tried to do all that, I'd have to spend a month shuttling back and forth between Iowa and Texas, and I'd have to ignore Antonio's family in Ohio altogether.  It's just not feasible -- logistically, economically, or emotionally.  Part of me wants to just say, "Forget all this!" and not go anywhere for any of the holidays, to just stay home alone in Texas, enjoying the simple pleasure and sense of peace I feel at home with the cats.  At least that would allow me to wallow in my grief as I see fit, to not feel like I have to mask my complicated feelings beneath a joyful holiday face.  I did a similar thing for my 30th birthday last year, choosing to treat it as simply another day, picking out new living room furniture for my apartment.  I rather enjoyed that.  No expectations, no false front, no disappointment, no hoopla, no unnecessary energy and emotion required.

So what do I do this holiday season?

Well, we are going to Iowa for Thanksgiving.  I haven't been home since summer, and Antonio's never been to Iowa and hasn't met most of my family and friends from up north.  I have a mixture of emotions about this trip.

Of course, I'm looking forward to seeing my family (including Brian's family) and friends, and to visit some of the places I hold dear to me.  I can't wait to show Antonio off to everyone, and to show him how great my place of origin is.

On the other hand, I know it will feel strange to be back in those familiar places, surrounded by familiar faces, with someone who isn't Brian.  I've never been in those places with a man who wasn't Brian, and I know it will be different.  I'm not saying it will be bad -- in fact, I'm looking forward to it -- but it will certainly be different.  I haven't had a "meet the boyfriend" moment with my family since the mid-90s when I brought home the tall, skinny redhead upperclassman I'd just started dating and would eventually marry.  I know they will love him, but I'm a little anxious because it's an unfamiliar situation.

I have to admit, I also worry about introducing him to my in-laws.  I can't imagine what it will be like for them to have me at their family Thanksgiving table with a new man beside me, a man who isn't their son and brother.  Will my nieces understand?  My in-laws are loving and gracious people, and I know Antonio will be welcomed warmly; that is not a concern.  That still does not mean it will be easy, or that it won't feel a little bit strange.

I also worry about Antonio.  I want him to enjoy this trip.  Will he be overwhelmed to meet all "my friends," most of whom were Brian's friends, or "our friends"?  Does he worry about being liked by everyone who loved Brian so deeply?  Will he get sick of hearing me rave about the places we used to go, the things we used to do?  He hates seeing me cry, but I suspect there will be many tears in the week we will spend in Iowa.  Will he hate the trip if I cry too much?  We'll be going to see Brian's grave, which makes me bawl every time I'm there.  I want to show him our old house, my old law firm, and all our old hang-outs.  I loved my life with Brian in Iowa, and I want to show him why.

All of the places and people that used to make up my daily life are now 1,000 miles and one year removed from my current reality.  Will seeing them all again trigger sadness for what I lost?  Will I get overly sentimental and yearn for what no longer is, for what will never again be my life?  I don't know.  I know that one year ago, I couldn't miss my old life as much as I do now, because I wasn't as removed -- I still had possession of my house throughout the holidays, so I was at least in a familiar home during the holidays.  This time, our trip will include a couple nights in a hotel, further cementing the fact that "home" is no longer.

Despite my mixed emotions and complicated feelings, despite my pain, I know I can enjoy the holidays.  I just have to have a plan to deal with emotions when they come up, instead of hoping they won't interfere and being unprepared when ignoring the emotions doesn't work.

First, I have to remember that the past is meant to be remembered with fondless and affection.  Instead of longing for what I no longer have, I need to cherish the fact that I had years of happiness with Brian, and to be grateful and joyous that we had such a wonderful life together in Iowa -- full of friends, family, a wonderful home, great food, and fun.  I can share all that with Antonio, who I know is looking forward to experiencing the places and people that made me who I am.

Second, I need to remember that pain and happiness can co-exist.  While I might feel sad to let go of my old life and my old traditions, I also know that I will enjoy being with Antonio this holiday season.  I can miss Brian and be sad that I might not make it to Iowa for Christmas, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy myself with Antonio's family in Ohio.  I love his family, and I look forward to spending my first Christmas in Ohio with them. 

Third, I will talk about Brian.  Whether in Iowa, Texas, or Ohio; with my family, my in-laws, or my boyfriend's family.  Brian may be gone, but he is not forgotten.  Sharing good memories about him, telling "Brian stories," and just saying his name all feel good.  Talking about him helps bridge the gap between my old life and my new one.  It is a way to be open to change, to the world, and with my emotions.  If I stifled myself, listened to that tiny inner voice that warns me not to talk about my dead husband too much lest anyone think I'm obsessed with him or unable to move on -- or that worries that people I've just met will think I'm weird or morbid, I would bottle everything up.  That wouldn't be good for anyone.  It would be self-destructive, as it would cause me to feel I couldn't share my past and would make me feel bottled up.  It would also be disrespectful to Brian -- just because he died, doesn't mean he didn't exist.  He doesn't deserve to be exiled to a place of non-mention.  He was a wonderful person -- bright, funny, outgoing, warm, wise, and honest.  He doesn't deserve to have his presence limited to our silent memories; instead, the stories of his life should continue to be told -- for they are a source of laughter, inspiration, and happiness.

I think with these simple rules that I will enjoy this holiday season, even if it turns out to be harder than the last.

1 comment:

  1. Wendy ~ You are such a strong woman! And, I can tell by the way you talk about Antonio, that he is a strong, loving man. Everyone who loved Brian, loves you and they want you to be happy. It is very obvious by your blogs that Antonio makes you happy...therefore everyone is going to love him! I wish you all the best during this holiday season!

    Jackie Stanley