(My parents living room looks like a Christmas card, right?)
I woke up early this morning--and breathed a sigh of relief. The emotional gauntlet of my first Christmas without Ken was over! I never imagined having to experience one without him after we met in 2001, and after he died in June I dreaded December and all the holidays that surrounded it. An internal clock counted down the days with deafening silence as the year drew to a close.
But it was okay. Christmas wasn't just bearable, but it had many moments of happiness, laughter and joy. For me it was both surprising and expected. I don't think I could have fallen in love with Ken without possessing (or learning to posses) the much mentioned "journey" mentality. And likewise, I have found the "fake it 'til you make it" mentality to be just as important. Learning what to focus on and what not to focus on have been my stock and trade since Ken's re-diagnosis in 2009.
Spending Christmas with my family was truly wonderful. Though there was no snow to be seen, the Christmas spirit was present and accounted for in my childhood home. My parents possess an equal measure of realism, optimism and hard-boiled family loyalty that was served up on a platter of love for me to dine on. It wasn't just my determination to endure the holiday and somehow enjoy it alone--it was the determination of those in my family--the "birth" family who I spent the holiday with as well as my "marital" family who I spent the day with emotionally, as well as my "chosen" family of friends who thought of me, emailed or called me or Facebooked me encouraging words of love and support.
A true "win" for me this Christmas was after returning home to Chicago on Christmas Day (my family's annual celebration is on Christmas Eve), I uncharacteristically accepted an invitation from my friend Beth to drop by in the afternoon for a Christmas cocktail and spend time with her, her son and family. Usually preferring to keep my own company--particularly during times of emotional tumult and the innate difficulty of being without Ken--after considering the kind invitation, Ken's unmistakable voice said "why not?" And had he been here and we were spending the day together, he would most certainly would have wanted to go and spend time with her and her posse. Doing something new and social was right up his alley.
She lives nearby so I opted to walk--all the while stupefied that I was actually doing it. I knew Ken would be proud of me, which made the decision more steadfast in my own mind. Watching her 3-year-old son's excitement about Christmas and Santa reminded me so much of Ken's my nephews Jack and Nathan and Ken's own childlike enthusiasm. I held her 10-month old nephew as he played with some of his cousin's building blocks. While conversations went on around me, it felt like I was the only in the room, holding Isiah and watching Ian play. It was an ethereal moment I'll never forget. Moments like that haven't been uncommon, and feel like I'm suspended mid-air between my past and my present.
My walk home was slow and full of memories--not just of the Christmas I'd just left, but of ALL of them. From childhood to the nine Christmases I spent with Ken, in particular. Decorating our tree. Our annual holiday party. Christmas Eve breakfasts on the beach in Malibu with his family when lived in or visited Los Angeles. It seemed like a LOOOONG walk, and at times I wanted it to be over with--just like part of me wanted Christmas to be over with. What was so striking was walking home through the neighborhood without seeing another single person--except Santa, of course.
But Christmas is over. And I got through it--enjoyed it, even--with a little help from my friends, and Ken's ever-present voice in my heart and in my head.