As much as my brain is so wanting to get into the Christmas spirit and feel all the wonder the season implies, my heart…just isn't. I have been working my ass off to continue with traditions that Ken and I shared. Every day together was special, but the holidays were even more so. Sharing them with him, and relying on his inexhaustible optimism leaves me feeling a bit…lost…again. I knew Christmas would present its challenges, but though I thought the "what if" in me had calculated all the permutations of potential sadness and had designed "work arounds" I knew I was fooling myself to some extent, but was prepared to be surprised.
Last weekend after I returned from California, I pulled out the three components of the pink, shimmery Christmas tree I bought for Ken in 2009 and assembled it, placing it in the spot it stood in last year. The Christmas spirit has been elusive this year--as anticipated. But I've kept trying to kick start it with favorite holiday movies and plans to do some baking other holiday-inspired activities. Also, in considering Ken's personality and spirit, I know he'd want me to do what I could to "feel" Christmas. I've kept telling myself, "I've lost Ken. I can't lose Christmas too." And I think that's what fuels my rampant need to get into the spirit--this year more than any other.
I yanked out all the boxes of Christmas decorations--boxes I'm certain Ken packed away as the more patient and far more effective packer. If they were sitting in the middle of the living room, I'd have no choice but to pull out the decorations. Not so much. They sat in the middle of the living room for a week. Apparently, my "work around" was to just not go into the living room.
But this weekend was "it." Like it or not, I was going to decorate that tree!!! I had a plan. And a new tradition to start: ordering a ton of Chinese food, watching a few of my favorite Christmas movies and decorating the tree on Saturday night. To help along my Christmas spirit I got a surprise text from my sister and brother-in-law who were not only visiting Chicago for the weekend, but were seeing a play just four block from my place. I was delighted to hear they were so close and met them for drinks after the show ended. We had a great time, and laughed a lot--as usual--and anticipated the hijinx of our family's Christmas together.
Later that night, food ordered, my decorating plans were put on hold due to a defective string of lights. A fruitless trip to CVS, put my plans on hold until today when I was able to go out--first thing--and pick up some strands of blue lights. After heating up a plateful of Chinese deliciousness, I set out to accomplish my tree decorating task. Bittersweet and even a little haunting, I went through the boxes and pulled out the decorations for the tree. Time stopped as I held the very first ornament in my hand. It was a difficult moment. Memories of decorating with Ken flooded back--particularly last year. It's like when people say their life flashes in front of them. My life of Christmas memories with Ken deluged my brain. Knowing I didn't have a choice--and as experience has taught me--I surrendered to the feelings and sat down by the tree head-in-hands and sobbed until my skull ached. Acknowledging my grief and expressing it are important--as is decorating my tree.
Once my "grief burst" passed, I set to the task of placing the ornaments. And has been the case for the past two Christmases, I can't look at that pink, shimmery tree without smiling. It's whimsical, bright and unconventional--like Ken. As "Love, Actually" played in the background I lost myself in the art and mathematics of placing ornaments (which include the special one pictured below). It wasn't as joyful as it was comforting and somehow satisfying. Honoring tradition.
Once I was done, I ventured up to Lincoln Square to the Christkidl Market. How's that for some holiday cheer? My determination to force Christmas down my own throat has pushed me beyond my own comfort zone limits. Well, almost. When I got there and realized--unlike the Christkindl Market downtown--this one was one was under a giant, hot, sweaty, tent stuffed with people (and strollers). I made my donation and one round then immediately exited. But I managed to do a little shopping at the quaint shops in the Square, listening to my Christmas playlist on my iPhone. Like my quick trip to Ribfest this summer--and, really, like venturing out and doing anything I wouldn't normally do, I gave myself an "A" for effort then headed home.
Besides, it's about the journey, not the destination.