A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Death, grief, tears and a Christmas bauble

We took our Christmas tree down today. Big deal right? Hasn't everyone?
 
Well, it is a big deal, for me. Because it's the first time I've done that in 8 years. And I had a good cry while doing it.
 
I was glad to see this on my morning walk today.
Glad we're not the only people in the neighbourhood
who just took their tree down.
This year I was determined to take down the Christmas tree. And my motivation (surprise, surprise) was a Pandora charm, a Christmas bauble, waiting to go on my "Beat the Winter Blues" bracelet.
 
The Christmas ornament dangle
In anticipation of writing a blog post I had decided to take pictures of my ornaments. And so I began taking ornaments off the tree. And taking a photo of them. And as I did, I started to cry. I felt so much sadness and loneliness. So much loss and grief. And I sat down to write this blog post.
 
Wooden soldiers on parade
I used to love decorating the Christmas tree. I'm a bit of a perfectionist (in case you didn't know), so after the first few years of living together, Mike didn't even help me with the tree. I was pretty exacting about where things should go. I loosened up a little once we had kids and I taught them how to put on the garlands. And I told them the little ornaments go up top, the bigger ones down below.
 
Mitchell (just over 2 years old) fascinated by the Christmas tree
So why was this making me cry?
 
When I was young my mother would include a Christmas ornament or two in my stocking every year. So by the time I left home I had a quirky collection of ornaments. Wherever I lived, every Christmas I would play Christmas music and leisurely hang these ornaments on the tree, while enjoying my annual walk down memory lane.
 
Painted leather ornaments
One of my favourite things to do with my mom was go to craft fairs. Nova Scotia, the Canadian province where I grew up, has some wonderful artisans. Many of my Christmas ornaments were hand-made by local artists, so they evoke all those memories as well.
 
Wooden ornaments
And once the Christmas season was past, I would lovingly put all these ornaments back in the storage box, knowing I would see them again next year.
 
And then my mother died.
 
That was February 2008. 
 
The next Christmas, the Christmas of 2008, my in-laws came to Ottawa for an early Christmas with us. I just couldn't summon the energy or the desire to put up the tree. So my father-in-law took matters into his own hands. Along with his two seven-year-old grandkids, he got our tree completely decorated.
 
It was much easier the next year, but only because we never did get around to taking it down. Yes, you read that correctly. Our Christmas tree stayed up for an entire year.
 
Yes, I am ashamed to admit this. The kids' friends often asked why we still had our tree up in April or July. But I didn't let any adults into the house; I couldn't face the judgements I expected to get. I didn't think I could handle the shame I would feel.
 
You might ask why my husband didn't just take it down himself. I asked him that recently and he wasn't 100% sure but said he realized I'd want it done "just so." And he was worried that I'd feel even worse admitting that I needed someone else to do it for me.
 
But in the years to follow I relinquished control and let him take it down - and let go of the control that they might not be perfectly packed away. And then Mike's dad died. The following Christmas Mike's mom, now widowed, spent Christmas with us for the first time. And I let her decorate the tree with the kids.
 
Taylor and Mitchell decorating the tree with Grammie
 
I hadn't really stopped to think about why I didn't want to face the tree. But every year I let someone else take the tree down. It was "too overwhelming."
 
It wasn't until today that I realized what the problem was. It had been too hard to put away all those ornaments from my mom. To say goodbye to them. To feel the pain of saying goodbye to her, again and again. Year after year. That's why I was crying.
 
Dressed for the Christmas party at Mom's retirement home.
The kids would have just turned three.
Mitchell did NOT want to be in the photo!
Throughout this last year I've learned how to allow myself to feel sadness, loss, hurt and loneliness. To not be afraid of the emotions and try to avoid them and push them away. 
 
Ever since the second of February, 2008, I have been avoiding everything that reminded me of mom. I kept saying to myself, "I can't deal with this." I "couldn't deal with" opening mail for her, writing thank you notes for condolences we'd received, hanging photos of her, or revisiting the long term care facility where she died. Most difficult of all was remembering her death. This was not a healthy way of grieving.
 
Interestingly, the one thing I did do, over the last four years, was collect Pandora charms for a bracelet in her memory. And I started writing stories about her life and the lessons I learned from her. (If you haven't seen those, you can find stories about the fish bones, sneaker dangle, and making waves charms, as well as one I call love you forever.) She was amazing and I miss her, especially at times like Christmas.
 
My Unforgettable Mom: her life in charms
So this dangly Christmas bauble on my "Beat the Winter Blues" bracelet is a reminder of this achievement of taking down the Christmas tree. I can finally say to myself, "I did it!"
 
 
But more importantly it will remind me to savour the act of putting up the tree. To remember those ornaments in my stocking, and going to craft shows. And to be grateful. And to do the same when putting them away. Remembering that I will see them again next year.
 
I have continued the tradition by giving my children Christmas ornaments every year. And I hope, that as they get older, they will cherish our Christmas memories.
 
Rocking horse ornament from my mom.
The bear hugging a tree ornament, my gift to Mitchell
the year he was on the Green Team (environmental club)
 

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