Navigating the 3rd Christmas

Yesterday, I found myself wishing I was a kid again. I remember Christmas being so magical and so exciting. Watching out the car window looking at all the Christmas lights. Decorating our live tree. Watching all the Christmas specials (including my favorite “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas”). My dad’s I.B.E.W Christmas party every year. The anticipation of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning almost more than I could stand.

I had really bad nightmares this morning. Really bad and very disturbing and I can’t get them out of my head. Here’s the thing. I have been thinking that I really have my act together this year. The past two Christmases I couldn’t even really make an effort. Loved ones supported my children throughout the past two Christmases. But this one–I had it. I started at the beginning of the month. Christmas lists in hand. Grand surprises planned. A very nice person spent two days putting Christmas lights up outside my house (which we’ve never had–and my kids are always sad about that) so that when I pulled up to the house-the kids would gasp in wonder and excitement at the beautiful wonderland he had created (I even pulled over to video tape their reactions but it didn’t quite go down the way I had imagined). I bought our first live tree and colored lights that reminded me of my childhood trees. I white knuckled a weekend trip over the pass in a giant snowstorm so my kids could experience a ton of snow and play in it and go sledding. The kids and I even ran out of the house one morning at 6:30am so we could buy teacher and staff presents and they could all wear festive hats on the last day before the break. The one thing I didn’t get to was Christmas cards–and I was okay with that. I was way ahead of the game and we would be visiting Santa long before Christmas Eve morning.

It’s Christmas Eve morning. I couldn’t even bring my kids to see Santa. My parents had to do it for me. Yesterday, I crashed. My kids were staying with my parents and I was going to watch Christmas movies and wrap presents and get up early this morning to go see Santa. But, when I got back last night, I crashed hard. My brain kept going to a very bad place. This one survival mode of my brain trying to think of ways to escape the pain. The other reasonable part of my brain reminding me that I can get through this. Just get through the next minute. Then the next minute. Fortunately, a good friend showed up at my doorstep right in the middle of it all, and although her visit was short, it was all I needed to come out of that dark place. I begrudgingly wrapped the rest of the presents, ate a salad and watched “Shameless”. Not a whole lot of Christmas spirit-but I was moving along. Then this morning I woke up from the nightmares. My parents were texting me about getting the kids out early to see Santa. I tried. I told myself “Come on! This is one day-one day out of the year when you really need to fake it and get the kids to see Santa. You can do this. You NEED to do this”. But I was stuck. Stuck in my nightmares. Just stuck.

I’ve been thinking about the holiday season a lot since yesterday. There is this idea of magic, joy, singing, happiness and family. But there are so many people out there-for whom the holidays are painful, agonizing, and heartbreaking. I try really hard not to give in to those feelings. I think about others and try to keep things in perspective. I really tried this year. But I crashed. Hard. I don’t want to celebrate. I don’t feel like celebrating. I have to, because I have kids. But I would say-this is not just about my pain this year. It’s actually fully recognizing the state of the world, and all the people–so many people–who are suffering in one way or another, and feeling so sad about THEIR pain, THEIR suffering, THEIR losses, THEIR hunger and THEIR heartbreak. I think I’m so overwhelmed with how painful the holidays are for so many people and I can donate to charities until I run out of money, but that doesn’t really make a difference in this world. So, I’m sad for all of the people who are suffering. I wish I could invite them all to my house for a sleepover and feed them and clothe them and let them know–its okay. It’s okay that the holidays suck for you and you don’t have to pretend.

I’m very lucky that I have memories of magical Christmases. Even as an adult. I’ll end with a Jake story.  One Christmas, we went out to buy a tree.  I think it was the last Christmas we had a live tree (maybe 10-11 years ago).  The place where we bought the tree didn’t have any twine or anything to secure the tree to the top of the car!  They encouraged us to go into the store and buy some rope.  Jake and I were frustrated.  So, Jake threw the tree on top of the car, opened his window, and drove home with one hand on the steering wheel and one arm hanging out the window, holding onto to the tree on top of the car. Simple story–one of those “you had to be there” events.  But, I’m so grateful that Jake was Jake and we were fortunate enough to call him family.  I really miss him.



Birdhouse In Your Soul

The nightmares started right after the 6 month mark.  Most of them don’t include Jake, but they are all very scary and very real.  The nightmares come most nights, if not every night.  I wonder if they will ever go away now.

At the 6 month mark, I was a complete mess.  Then, one day I woke up and decided that I wasn’t going to be a mess anymore.  I made the choice to “block” everything-every thought, every memory, every scene from the constant movie in my head.  Every time I started thinking about it, I imagined a gigantic door slamming shut on the memory and all I could see was the door.  As any reasonable person could imagine, the “blocking” technique couldn’t last very long.  After a few days, I found myself sobbing-all day long.  I couldn’t stop.  Hmm.  I wonder why?  Yet, I continue to use this blocking technique without even thinking about it.  I noticed myself looking the other direction when I pass by one his pictures.  If I happen to catch a glimpse of his picture or something that reminds me of him (which is pretty much everything because I still live in our home)-it literally takes my breath away and brings me to my knees.

Last weekend we had beautiful weather.  I had been avoiding the backyard since last August.  I would watch the kids and the dog from the window, but pretty much didn’t like to be out there.  If I did have to go out there, I consciously avoided looking at “the” tree.  But last weekend I went outside.  It was like the tree was a magnet pulling me to it.  I couldn’t stop even though I knew it was a bad idea.  I stood behind that tree and I’ll admit, I went a little crazy.  I examined the tree, ripped off the bark, dug up dirt and logs…and stared at it.  I knew I should move away from the tree but I felt glued to that spot.  All of a sudden I wanted to know more about that day.  What Jake saw, heard and thought.  How many emergency vehicles were here?  How many people?  Did they have their sirens and lights on?  How fast did they get Jake out of here and on his way to the hospital?  Was Jake conscious when they left?  I don’t have answers to these questions.  They are not important for me to know-I realize that.  But sometimes, I feel like if I don’t find out I am going to go insane (I’m partially there—I get that).  Eventually, something happened that got me moving away from the tree (I had to use the bathroom) 🙂 I came inside, the spell was broken and I didn’t go out in the backyard again.

This week, as we were leaving their counseling sessions, my oldest son (age 10) said to me “You know mom?  I feel really terrible saying this-but I don’t think about daddy all the time anymore.  I’m ashamed of that.”  I hugged him and told him that was fine.  However he felt was okay and he didn’t need to be ashamed or feel bad.  Inside though, I wanted to scream.  How could he not be thinking about his daddy ALL the time?  What was I doing wrong?  Jake’s pictures are everywhere, we talk about him a ton, there are memories in our face everywhere we turn….but maybe it’s because of those things that my 10-year-old son is not obsessively thinking about his daddy (the way I am)–Maybe it’s because my son is not slamming that gigantic door on the memories, that he is actually able to live his life.

I want to live my life again.  I don’t want to just exist, go through the motions and obsess about the memories.  Every day, I tell myself-this is the day I start really living again.  I even tell other people about this–so that maybe I can’t “back out” of this plan–like I would do if I were starting a diet or something.  But really, I’m just putting one foot in front of the other still.  When people tell me I’m strong, I want to ask “What do you see as strength in me?  Were there other options?”  If so, I wish someone had told me.  I probably would have chosen Door Number 2.

The “Kristen Suit” comes off when I am sleeping.  Maybe that’s why the nightmares are coming.  People might think-“Sheesh-Kristen is messed up.  I hope she’s talking to somebody.”  Yes-I am in counseling.  But I often wish it was just a matter of a drug or procedure that would make me forget-forget those few days that overshadow my life and let me remember all of the good stuff instead.

Another holiday is coming up.  Easter.  I want to skip it.  In years past, I would make the baskets and fill the eggs.  But Jake would go outside and hide all the eggs and come inside and hide the baskets.  Then on Easter morning the six of us would go outside and search for the candy-filled eggs (which I would throw away as soon as the kids weren’t looking–not because of the sugar–but because of the clutter!)  I don’t know how I’m going to do Easter–the prep, the hiding, the finding (I’m fine with the throwing away).  But shit.  Why do we have to have so many holidays?  Why did we ever start traditions?  I hate our traditions now.  But the kids still love them.  They look forward to them.  They need them.  It’s all about them now.

“Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch-who watches over you?” One of Jake’s top songs-They Might Be Giants.  Needing the birdhouse in my soul to stop the nightmares and help me start really living my life again.