Mourning for Christmas

Ho oh ho! Celebrate! It’s the big day next week! Let’s laugh and play…
Not so easy for those who have lost someone this year, or recently, or who have someone like my dad, who passed away on Christmas Eve, this making every year an ache of longing for him and his cruel/funny approach to the holiday. My uncle the priest said at my dad’s funeral, “he was a fairly good Catholic”, which caused my mother, his sister, to fly into a rage.
Oh families are fun. I miss the strum und drang sometimes…

I just read a review in the New York Review of Booksof Julian Barnes new book, Levels of Life, which might be a helpful gift for those like me who deal with loss over the holidays. He writes about his grief at the loss of his wife, but never directly. In several stories, he lets us know the depth of his grief obliquely. The quote that struck me the most, and reminded me of the time my daughter turned away from me in anguish, never to speak to me again, was this one. He was asked how he felt after his wife died (stupid question, often asked). His reply, recalling a ballooning accident he’s mentioned in the book:

So how do you feel? As if you had dropped from a height of several hundred feet, conscious all the time, have landed feet first in a rose bed with an impact that has driven you in up to your knees, and whose shock has caused your internal organs to rupture and burst forth from your body.

I don’t think you can get a better description of overwhelming grief than that…

It’s one thing when a person dies. The grief, while acute, softens over time. I miss my father every day, but I miss him as he was when he was 60. He’d be 87 now, give or take. Would he be the same? I get to remember him as he was, a man interested in the world, passionate about his interests, talented, funny, always fascinating. But I’m selfishly glad I didn’t have to see him diminish over time, become not himself.

My daughter is another issue. I grieve her in my heart every day she doesn’t speak to me. She has transitioned to be my son and I’ve been excluded. I want to support him as he becomes himself, but I am not permitted to. It is untold cruelty to me. Initially I blamed myself, felt I must have done something wrong. I questioned every interaction I could remember with my firstborn. Overall, I know I wasn’t perfect, but I think in general I was average as a parent. Most parents don’t have to cope with this level of abandonment.
Now I’m merely heart-broken, and every holiday makes it worse. I still feel that knee deep in the ground, internal organ spilling feeling whenever he crosses my mind.

Someone once told me a very true thing – the only thing you can control in life is your reaction to the events that surround you. I’ve tried to react in helpful ways, spoken out and supported trans causes, dealt with those involved, cut myself off from those my son accuses. And yet…

I asked my ex for my son’s phone number. Just to leave a message, try to cross the breach. He has chosen to ignore this request. Probably on my son’s direction. It breaks my heart. And fills me with rage.

How do I react to silence?

3 thoughts on “Mourning for Christmas

  1. Diane Tibert

    I know that feeling, of loosing a father. I’m not sure it would be harder if he had died in December. We still miss him during the holidays. But like you, I lost him when he was in his 60s (67 to be exact; I was 21 at the time). Now he’d be 91. I can’t imagine him 91 since non of his 16 siblings reached that age.

    Still, I live each day this December wondering about another family member; will he make it to Christmas? Will he see the new year dawn? Time will tell, but if he dies on Christmas it will forever change how I view the day.

    I am still fortunate with my children; they are all too young for adult things. But they approach that age quickly. In a few years, things that might be trivial may separate us, but I hope with all my heart they don’t.

    Miracles do happen. I’ve seen family come together after decades of separation, but I’ve also seen people die in old age with children still avoiding them. Hopefully though, time will heal the wounds.


  2. Ken

    It is incomprehensible to me why you are being excluded with no reason. Silence often implies some sort of punishment but I can’t undertsand that either. My thoughis:”Tell me what is wrong and work on a way to fix it with me.” One of my most influential mentors use to say to me: “Don’t bring me a problem without at least three suggestions for a solution.”

    It’s facile to say that he will regret it someday; but that is then – this is now. I can only offer my heartfelt sympathies, and of course – love, for what I know to be all the good inside you.


  3. johnageddes

    Strange, isn’t it, that this grief is there all the time but peaks at Christmas. I have come to think that the fault is with Christmas…or our society’s expectations around Christmas that flood us with family-oriented messages, obligations and longings. The reality is, however, that there are many, many families who have some dysfunction or angst or trauma or grief that the Christmas season lays bare. Knowing that may lessen the pain, just a smidge. I think we should only have Christmas once every five years. Who made this calendar anyway?


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