Friends, this season is going to be hard.
Ambiguous Grief yields Ambiguous Holidays.
Before Grief moved into our home, our family had many holiday traditions. Birthdays, First Day of School, Easter, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve/Day. At least one tradition entwined into each of them. For our family though, Christmas held the most. Dad and the kids would make their annual pilgrimage to select the tree, proudly bringing it home atop of the family mini van. Me rushing out to take the annual photo of them with their prize, then coming inside to serve them fresh from the oven, homemade, ooey-gooey warm and chewy, chocolate chip cookies. (Yes, that’s what we called them. Every year.)
The ornaments, specially chosen for each family member were then passed out. Each ornament represented the achievements, the travels, or the memorable moments from the year. As you might imagine, this meant that our family tree wasn’t one of those perfectly curated trees you see in some homes. We didn’t have matching bulbs or ribbons, to compliment a coordinating star atop the tree.
Instead, ours was a tree of US. Patchworked with bulbs and booties from babyhood, crocheted and construction paper framed school photos. Personalized puppies reminded us of the year Santa brought our dog, and city skylines recall once happy family vacations.
My most treasured, and now most painful ornament is a simple door, donned in garland with our family name and “year of establishment”. Thinking of it now brings tears to my eyes. As I recall it now, I’m saddened thinking it could have a “dash” and a death date. ‘Est. 1999 – 2017’.
The beloved ornaments, telling the story of our family of five, sits unopened in a festive holiday bin, that I packed away last year, our last Christmas together, just weeks before discovering the WHOLE heart-breaking truth about his betrayal to our family. Our divorce and the grief endured from the discovery of my ex-husband’s long-lived double life aches deep within my bones. The authenticity in which I lived in our marriage is mirrored by his fraud. We aren’t gathering around recalling funny stories about him, or finding comfort in his things left behind. He didn’t die. He just deceived us and left.
Not being certain how to “do” this first Christmas, I read what I could find, and I asked professionals and friends who had also endured divorce with children.
“Make new traditions”, “forge forward”, and “do something totally different”, were the most commonly received recommendations. Yet none of them felt right.
I decided to ask the children, all teens, what they would like to do. My hope was that if we HAD to celebrate (something I honestly don’t feel like doing), then for their sake, maybe we could “Tweak” our Christmas, just as we had tweaked our home when he moved out. Making it slightly different with new things, while keeping the familiarity.
Sounds like a reasonable plan, right?
Me: “So do you all want to put up a tree this year?”
Trio: “I guess”, “Sure”, Yes”
So with the “TWEAKmas” in mind, I set up this plan:
- Buy the tree on the traditional first Saturday of the month (tradition)
- I take the kids to a new tree farm to select the tree, enjoy hot coco, walk the farm with homemade donuts, admire the carolers. (tweak)
- Make homemade, ooey gooey warm and chewy chocolate chip cookies for the family when we got home (tradition)
- Decorate the tree with lights and new bulbs and ornaments (tweak)
- Add the family star to the top, decorate the house inside and out, hang stockings (tradition)
Saturday morning came, we volunteered together at the local food bank (tweak) and then headed for the tree. As they say, the best laid plans…..
Tweakmas was a disaster. We got the tree, but not without a lot of eye rolling, attitude, shoulder shrugging, and door slamming. There would be no posed photo this year. They were offended I asked. For all of us, it was just too hard. The experience of understanding things are no longer as they once were is glaring and bright when your tradition changes. The pain was palpable and took them by surprise. I think my eagerness to heal their hurt was too.
We brought the tree straight home in a silent car. No stopping for ornaments.
We worked together to stand it in our foyer, and then each child retreated to their bedrooms. Presumably to process. I took the cookies to each room. Nobody wanted one. That was 3 days ago.
The tree stands naked but for a couple strands of lights.
They don’t want to decorate it, after all.
They don’t want to see their ornaments or their stockings. Which is ok, because neither do I. 21 years of ornaments I gifted to their Dad are in those bins. A bin he chose not to take when he left. They are but a remembrance of a happier time. We were being lied to then, we just didn’t know it. Now, that we do and with the truth out in the open, we are working to find a new normal, to tweak our traditions, and find our way.
I know we will.
Just maybe not this year.