By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler
I gently chided my husband – again – about how he continues to leave the light on in our master bedroom closet once he has exited, as well as the night light above the toilet when he is finished using the bathroom. “But it’s not me, it’s the gremlins,” he emphasized. Now, where had I heard that before???
When my father was alive, blaming similar occurrences on “gremlins” was his way of doing one of two things: either explaining away the great mysteries of life (Where in the world did I put my glasses/car keys/pair of scissors I just had in my hand? Those blasted gremlins again!); or, trying to “get out of” some trouble around the house that for some reason was always inevitably his fault.
In that shared moment with my husband, I realized what I had known all along as I watched my father near the end of his life: that Dad’s life really wouldn’t ever end. It would continue to live on in me, in my family, and in others, since he had touched so many lives in his personal and professional life. I also realized that over the years I have taken on many of my father’s ways – similarly moving about the house and interacting with my family, that it is almost as though he is here with me daily.
In fact, in so many ways, I now catch myself carrying on a lot of my folks’ “parent-isms.” So much so that I am beginning to wonder if they actually are immortal! Here’s what I mean:
- The “gremlins” have apparently followed me from my childhood home to my house.
- My son breaks out into song with, “Ooo, Eee, Ooo, Ahh, Ahh, Ting, Tang, Wala, Wala, Bing, Bang.” Is that a real song or did my Dad indeed make that up? I refuse to Google it to find out.
- When my son was showing me something and said, “Look at this, Mom,” I responded, “I see said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw.” Ugh! Another bad Dad pun!
- I’m beginning to tell the jokes from Reader’s Digest and claiming them as my own.
- When I am getting ready to run an errand, I frequently pause for one last look in the mirror – My mother’s question, “Where’s your lipstick?” resonates in my ear. I choose lip gloss instead.
- I keep picking out white shirts for Andrew to layer under his long-sleeved shirts and sweaters. Mom is infamous for saying, “You can wear white with that,” when my sisters and I would approach her looking for color matching ideas.
- I catch myself posing larger than life questions and considerations to my son as both of my parents were prone to do. Like a 4-year-old really gets my explanation about aging as to why I cannot simply leap out of bed and somersault across the floor at 6:00 in the morning too. “And you too one day will be old.” Yes, Dad – I know that now!
My dad passed away on October 3rd this year (click here for “A Gift from My Father”). Those of you who have also lost a close relative or dear friend know that all the “firsts” (holiday, birthday, anniversary) without them are especially tough. My family and I have held fast to having our own holiday time at home versus traveling out of state between various relatives. We believe it is very important that our son wake up in his own house for holidays and experience the family traditions we have established. At Christmastime, we would visit my parents on December 27th or 28th to exchange gifts since they live less than 3 hours away, yet that was the extent of celebrating holidays outside of our own home.
This Thanksgiving, however, we decided to stay with my mother in my childhood home and join her, and my sister and her family, for the Thanksgiving meal. It all seemed “fine,” yet there definitely was a presence missing. My sister puts out little name cards at each table setting so everyone knows their seat, and when she came across the card that said (“Pop Pop”) she and I both had to take a breath. I sat next to my mom, yet oddly, didn’t know what to say or do. I just kind of reached over at one point and put my hand on her arm, hoping she would somehow know what I wanted to say but couldn’t.
The day after Thanksgiving, my mom and I visited Dad’s grave site and met the gentleman there who would help us choose a headstone that would be eventually shared by Mom as well. It was a bitterly cold day, and the man was far too chatty and cheerful for me. The morning there exhausted and annoyed me, and by the time my family and I arrived back in Maryland that evening I was emotionally drained. I slept most of the weekend.
We have all heard of having a “Blue Christmas.” This is also a Christmas song written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, and is a tale of unrequited love during the holidays. It has become popular Christmas music that causes us to think about anyone we are missing during the holiday season. Here are a few tips I am finding helpful in keeping cheer amidst feelings of melancholy:
- Create a “tribute” table or other spot in your home where you can see your loved one and have their presence more easily felt.
- Talk to your loved one (yes, out loud!) every day. Tell them what is on your mind and what you are feeling, whether it directly pertains to your relationship or not.
- Call family and friends who are still with you and reminisce. Cry together, or laugh as you remember the good times.
- Find fun activities to join in that are separate from the things you used to do with your loved one. Sometimes a shift in routine can be a welcome distraction.
- Let yourself feel your emotions, yet try not to become bogged down in them to where you are feeling prolonged feelings of sadness and loss. If that does become the case, find an unbiased professional to talk with, help you sort your emotions out, and cope. After all, losing a loved one – especially around the holidays, is tough.
I watch my husband and son from our dining room window – building a snowman and enjoying a friendly snowball fight in the first snow of winter. Yet it is more than this present moment I see. I see into the future as well – when my little boy will have grown and one day experience the loss of us, his parents. Will he hurt as badly as I do now? What memories will he hold dear and cling to when we are no longer in front of him? I don’t know. Yet if I am successful at continuing to pass on those delightful little parts of my father and mother, which I am so thankful for and which are now parts of me, my son will have plenty of them to keep him warm.
Are you dealing with feelings of loss or sadness this holiday season? Feel free to share your story, as well as ways you are coping and helping to bring a little cheer to this time of year.