I laugh when I put up my Christmas tree. Eight pieces or so, pre-lit, done within 30 minutes (fluffing included). Yet, for YEARS I watched my Dad struggle with his…organizing the color-coded branches, wrestling the lights (usually with language equally colorful), and replacing burnt out bulbs. Why didn’t he just go buy a pre-lit tree with less than 100 parts? Who knows? But it was pure entertainment for me.
I tear up remembering how he got my mom jewelry every single year. And every year she would give the “you shouldn’t have” speech, and then she would get this very specific smile on her face- a beautiful smile that only HE could bring out. I know this because I haven’t seen it since.
I grin thinking about our Christmas dinner conversations. Dad sat at the head of the table and didn’t say much. He couldn’t. Because we were all too busy carrying on with our inappropriate dinner topics. If it shouldn’t be talked about at the dinner table, we covered it. And we would laugh and laugh and laugh. Dad would sit there shaking his head and trying not to get infected with the laughter, but he couldn’t help it. We would break him every time.
I ache to think that my children don’t get to share in these memories. Dad passed away from colon cancer 4 years ago right after my son was born. Of course Christmas carries on, but what I remember and cherish is different from what my kids know now. Things have changed. There’s a definite void in our family. An empty spot on the mantle and on the couch. An empty spot at the head of the table. An easily assembled pre-lit tree. No one shaking their heads at the head of the dinner table. We have the same traditions and yet they feel so incomplete. In fact, I have only been home for ONE Christmas since Dad’s passing. It’s just… too hard. I have spent 4 years avoiding the truth deep down in my gut, the words I haven’t gotten the courage to come out and admit: Christmas will never be the same without Dad.
Please understand that I adore Christmas with my husband’s family! They are so fun and easy to be around. We laugh and we play ‘Just Dance’ on the Wii until we can no longer catch our breath. My 4 year-old is OBSESSED with Christmas because of the memories we have made with this crazy Rhodes clan. I acknowledge that these are the traditions and memories that my children will hold so dear to their hearts. I love this. So much. I am creating the very best Christmases I can for Bauer and Davee. But for me, it will never be the same.
Each year I wrestle to balance my grief and sorrow with the excitement and joy that my son has. Each year I carry on the traditions that I grew up with and am happy to pass down, but I bottle up the heartache of the missing piece. Each year I yearn to be home but find security in the distance.
And this year I’m doing something different. I’m being transparent. I’m getting honest with myself.
Christmas is hard. Many of us are being strong through the holidays for our families. Many of us are pushing our hurt aside because Christmas is supposed to be joyful. Many of us adore Christmas but keep waiting for it to get easier. Friends, I don’t think it will ever be the same.
If you are heartbroken this Christmas, cry with me. If you reflect on a memory that makes you miss a loved one, share it with me. My gift to myself is to unwrap and acknowledge all the feelings that come along with the holidays- the beautiful ones as well as the challenging ones. May we honor the ones that we so desperately miss and may we embrace the ones that we can still make memories with. This is how I will make it through another Christmas without Dad.