The New Christmas
Author: Rachael Hill
The other day I was asked if this time of year is hard for me. I felt a little guilty saying it, but in general it really isn’t. I still enjoy this time of year and cherish the Christmas activities and traditions that I do with my boys. Now don’t get me wrong, I desperately miss my husband and at Christmas time especially, but instead of letting myself drown in despair because he is not here I choose to continue to keep our traditions alive and include him wherever I can.
Being in the military, Jeff was gone a lot and often missed out on all of the fun leading up to the holidays. He wasn’t always there to dye Easter eggs, go Trick-or-Treating, participate in tree lighting ceremonies, decorate Christmas cookies, etc.
It was often just me and the boys doing these activities on our own so in that sense, it unfortunately feels fairly normal to be doing these things without him. Now with that said and knowing how much he was gone, he never missed a major holiday. He was always home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Sometimes even getting home the night before with barely enough time to sleep…but yet he was always there. So in that sense yes, the actual holiday itself can often times be very difficult for me. Especially Christmas.
Jeff would get so excited about Santa and was always the first one to help the boys write their letters on Christmas Eve. After the cookies were set out and the letters were written, he would read them “The Night Before Christmas” and tuck them into bed. He would then get giddy as it was time to put out the presents. It still makes me laugh to think about how adamant he was at how the presents were to be organized and the specific way they were to be displayed in order to get the maximum effect!
The last Christmas we spent with him we gave our boys a mini snowmachine and he spent hours in the garage polishing it and preparing it so it was the absolute highlight of Christmas morning. He succeeded because the boys were floored and so excited about their new toy. He loved playing Santa for our two little boys and I can still see the excitement in his eyes and hear that silly laugh he had when the boys came in to tell us that Santa had come each Christmas morning.
While these memories are usually wonderful and uplifting, Christmas day can sometimes make them a stinging reminder of our new reality. However, I continue to share these memories with my boys and have found some ways to keep Jeff in our hearts and to make the holiday just a little bit easier.
Starting the first year we were married we would each get a Hallmark ornament to hang on the tree and it had to have some kind of meaning or representation from the year. Jeff still gets his ornament and this was the third year his ornament reflected remembrance and love. I still hang Jeff’s stocking but now when the boys write their letters to Santa, they also write a letter to Daddy and put it in his stocking to send in Santa’s pack.
We always hosted Christmas dinner with a houseful of our friends and I still continue to do this. Some people think I’m crazy, especially when I wanted to continue to host Christmas dinner just 5 months after he died, but to me, it’s helpful. It keeps me busy and focused on something. I’m not just sitting around thinking about how much I miss him and how different the atmosphere would be if he were here. I’m busy getting things ready, cooking, cleaning, and talking with my friends. It also helps me to not only feel the love of all of the wonderful people that surround us, but to also see it! That to me, is one of the best Christmas gifts I could ever ask for.
In grief, some people don’t want to celebrate Christmas. Some people can’t follow through with the things they did before, and that is absolutely ok! For me, I have to continue on with all of the traditions we started with our boys. Some traditions came from his childhood and some came from mine, but through our years together we took those traditions and merged them to create our own, and I just can’t imagine not sharing them with our boys…especially the tradition of matching Christmas pajamas (one Jeff surprisingly never complained about).
When it comes down to it though, Christmas is not about the presents and cookies, but rather it is a season of love. Loving our families, loving our friends, and opening our hearts to feel the love of those around us. This love most definitely includes our loved ones who are no longer physically with us. I may not be able to see Jeff’s presence in our lives, but I can feel it and I can feel his love surrounding us. I believe that if I keep this love alive, I know that there will never truly be another Christmas without him.
“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye” –H. Jackson Brown, Jr.