The First Christmas
The First Christmas After She Passed
By Jessica Kasevich
It was the first Christmas since she passed away. She died in November, a month and a half earlier. I always hated November ever since I could remember: cold, dark, barren, the hope for a surprise spring day gone with the October leaves. She had been sick for so long fighting one of the rarest forms of Cancer. “Why did God give her cancer?” “Why would He do this to her, to us?” “Maybe he never existed. If he did why would he want anyone to be in pain?” “Why?”
Knowing the end is near is painful
The day before she went into the hospital is one of the most vivid memories I have. That day we were both home for the weekend. I wanted to take her to the country to pick pumpkins, drink apple cider and see the beauty of fall, the bright reds and oranges of the New England leaves. She grabbed my hand and told me to walk with her. She said, “I want to take in all of the wonderful memories I have had in this home, because I know I will not be coming back.”
I wanted to scream with rage when I heard those words. I wanted to scream at the cancer and at her. I wanted to tell her not to talk such nonsense, that she would be home again, just a quick checkup at the doctors and then home, home to us, home to her family, home!
I walked through the house with her. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I fought the denial I had that she was truly dying and gave her the experience she needed.
We sat on the edge of her creaky bed like we always did when we had our “serious talks,” bullies, boys, the “birds and the bees…” She then leaned over and reached for her jewelry box which was placed in the center of her rich mahogany bureau. It was her mother’s bureau. She took such wonderful care of it, weekly polishing it to preserve its natural sheen. She said she felt closer to her mother after she shined it every week. For the first time I began to understand what she meant. Her fragile hands grabbed the sides of the jewelry box and placed it on the floral bedspread. I could see the black and blue lesions on her forearm from the cancer.
She picked up each piece of jewelry, held it in her hands, stared at it for a couple of seconds in silence as if she was saying goodbye and then told me what each piece meant to her, who had given it to her and for what occasion. I did not want to hear what she was saying.
I wanted to be anywhere else then there. “Be strong, be strong,” is all I could say to myself. “Give her what she needs,” so I did.
She made me promise to keep all of the jewelry in the family. I shook my head with tears streaming down my face. I tried so hard not to cry. I did not want to make her feel bad about dying and about how I was having a difficult time handling it. The parent child roles were becoming reversed as I had to be stronger for her instead of her for me. I could not imagine what it must be like to accept your own mortality questioning, “Will my life continue?” “Is there really an afterlife?” I thought how could she be so strong? She was calm, collective and it seemed like she had accepted her death. She smiled with each memory she shared with me. The next day she went to the hospital. She was there for a month and a half.
She was right; mother knew she was never going to come home?
Deep sadness, but relief pain is over
A week later, the wake and funeral were held. There was a sense of sadness by all the family members but also a sense of relief, relief that she was finally in peace and had no more pain. Christmas Eve came sooner than we expected. The house was full as usual with three generations of our family. There were the savory smells of Christmas coming from the kitchen and gooey desserts kept on the porch until there was room in the kitchen for them. With all the “normal” things at Christmas there were also some unfamiliar situations. This year there was no tree. No one had the energy after all we had gone through to pick one up and no one wanted to be reminded of the family ritual we had around getting our Christmas tree. We always cut down the Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. Mom would make homemade hot chocolate and we would roast marshmallows in the fire after the tree was decorated. This year we just couldn’t do it.
What about traditions and rituals?
When the Christmas dinner was ready to be served another difficult moment presented itself. Would we ring the bell that she rung to let the family know that dinner was ready? All of us in the kitchen looked at the bell. I finally asked my cousin to welcome everyone into the dining room instead. When all twenty of us arrived we all froze in front of the table. Do we leave her place empty or does someone sit in her chair were the thoughts running through all of our minds? I guess we froze too long as 4 year old Connor plopped his bottom on the chair and said “Yummy potatoes!”
When then all sat down following Connor’s lead. I guess we sat exactly where we were supposed to.
While we were cleaning up after dinner her favorite Christmas song began playing on the television. Many of us stopped and stared at each other with tears in our eyes. Some sobbed. We hugged each other and let the craziness of the younger generation buzz by us. They would get us through this difficult time those little tikes. We still had to take care of them like she would want us to and they still needed to have fun. We had to be happy again so we could give them what all children deserve, a happy childhood.
We all will experience the unfortunate loss of a loved one. Some losses are expected and some are a horrible surprise. Whether we are with them on the journey of trying to fight a disease or away from them when they take their last unexpected breath, we will all struggle with the sadness death brings. We will struggle to manage the emotions we are left with: anger, denial, bargaining, “What if…?” and hopefully the final peace of acceptance.
Holidays exasperate emotional times
These emotions can be exasperated by the holiday season. Many customs and traditions are not what they use to be because our loved ones are not there to share them with us. Embrace the emotions of loss that you find yourself in during the holiday season as these emotions are completely normal. These emotions remind us that we are truly in the process of mourning and through this process our pain will lessen. Some days are better and some are worse than others. You have just experienced the hardest thing in your life, it is difficult.
Compassion is key
We must remember to give ourselves compassionate for what we have gone through and for what we are going through. There are setbacks when mourning, the Christmas card addressed to your loved one or the phone call from a telemarketer asking for them. Cry if you want to. Stay away from events if you feel you cannot handle them. Do what you need to do to get through the holiday season. If what other people are saying to try to help you is not helping, kindly say “thank you for your advice,” and do what you need to do for yourself. No one knows what you are really going through but you.
Listen to yourself.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday’s to you and your family!