Christmas is especially difficult after losing Gus. Whereas I once relished the season, sprinkling cinnamon scented cones throughout the house, cramming every nook and cranny with a Santa or some other kitschy decoration, and draping the house in garlands and lights, for the last three years I’ve approached it as if I was ripping off a bandage from an open wound, quickly while holding my breath.
This year more than ever I felt like a Christmas spectator than a participant; as though I was out on a cold, damp, dim street looking through a window at a warm, happy party I could not join. Everything hurt me this year; the mention of the birth of Christ at church, the long lines of kids waiting for Santa at the mall, the request for two front teeth on the radio, and even the Facebook news feed that peppered me incessantly with pictures of kids I used to see regularly, older now, swathed in the colors of the season. Just setting up for Christmas was torture as each of the few Christmas decorations I had retained through The Great Purge held special meaning. The glittery cone precariously glued on its end gingerly placed on the coffee table had been carefully constructed by our oldest son in first grade, the beautifully framed splattering of green paint right next to it, a Christmas gift from our middle son in second grade, and on the mantle, a red, white and green construction paper garland that Gus made in kindergarten. But it was the Christmas tree that finally drew blood, each ornament we unwrapped and hung; the giant red, white and blue Mickey ears from our last family trip to Disneyworld, the ones that commemorated the kids births, the unbreakable ones purchased when Gus was a baby, the ones we picked up on epic trips around the country and the one we had made in his memory stabbed at our hearts until we were emotionally wrecked. For the first time in my life, I was Scrooge, face to face with the Ghost of Christmas past.
I thought December 26th would be better, if I could just power through the days leading up to and including the 25th, I could stop pretending to smile and smile for real, perhaps even take a breath. I nearly did or thought I had until the Ghost Christmas Future showed up growling at me pacing back and forth around the house between Christmas and New Year’s until I matched its steps and took on its persona. I used to race towards the future, I had a zeal for leaving things behind. I liked running away from mistakes, worries, circumstances, even people. I was the kind of person that tore up ex-boyfriend’s letters and pictures, that dropped the baggage at the door of the last year and stepped into the new year without hesitation. Since Gus’ passing however, I’ve had no interest in the future. The future no longer held any promise for me other than further loss.
I began wondering if I was a fraud. If I had ever believed there could be “upsides” to grief or if all of it, the working, traveling, reading, writing, “positive” mental attitude were things I was saying but did not really believe. The peace I thought I had gained was not real if it could evaporate by the changing of a single digit.
Sunday the 18th of January will be my husband’s birthday and while I hadn’t come up with a great gift idea yet, it seems that Gus had. Yesterday, I was heading home after getting a body wrap to squeeze the unwanted water from my pores when my sweaty hand hit the wrong button landing me on a radio station I rarely listen to. It was playing The Pretender (hmm) by the Foo Fighters so I left it there. All of my boys (husband and Gus included) are huge fans of the band and have been aching to see them in concert but the show this coming September sold out in seconds and now the tickets were ridiculously priced. Although I wasn’t really paying much attention to the DJ, I thought I heard him say that the band had just announced a “secret” or “surprise” show at the Forum on Saturday with tickets going on sale within a few hours. I scrambled home to tell my son who coordinated with his dad and by the time the evening was over they had secured a bunch of tickets for us and a few friends. Saturday is the 10th, a number of great significance to us as Gus’ birthday was the 10th of August and he was ten when he passed away. I choose to believe that Gus meant for me to get us to that concert as a present to his dad.
Without an ability to hold onto the past and with a fear as much as a reluctance of the future, I realize now I have been grabbing onto the present for dear life. While it is important to make the most of the present, to be “in the moment” precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead, it is a little like staring at your feet while walking. You are bound to walk into a pole. Life must also be lived with intention and intention is all about the future. While the ghosts of Christmas past may go by many names and hurt me each year they are released from their translucent graves, the ghost of Christmas future has a single name, peace. I can follow Gus to that future if I listen closely enough because in the end it will lead me straight to him. May you find peace in 2015.