Christmas Managed

Well, we made it through. Christmas came and went, and Dad wasn’t there, and we still are.

It was hard. His ghost was everywhere, the absence of a person filling the room just as much as his body would’ve. His goblet, the one he used for Diet Coke and wine (individually; Diet Coke is not THAT magical), sat untouched in the back of the cupboard. We ate food with tomatoes in it. We listened to Christmas music. We didn’t watch endless loops of news networks, although the boys saw to it that we did put on the Golf Channel a bit. Dad would’ve loved having grandsons who, at two and a half, already love that station as much as he did.


We caught ourselves using present tense about him sometimes. We told stories, and laughed, but we also couldn’t escape thoughts of how much he would’ve gotten a kick out of certain things. Sometimes it was hard for Mom to play with the boys without getting emotional about how enamored Dad would’ve been with them. Mom often had to excuse herself for fifteen-minute periods. She wouldn’t sit on his side of the couch, the left side, until she got The Cold and then randomly decided that would be the day she tried to break that seat’s aura. I think it was because she felt lousy, and mentally, sitting on that cushion was like curling up on his lap. And weirdly, I was okay the whole time until Christmas Mass started. If I ever attend Mass it’s usually this one, and especially this year, I wanted to go with Mom. The choir — even the Pep Band, as I affectionately refer to the stripped-down group of ten that sings most Masses — is also unusually excellent for a small church in Encino. And when we stood up and they broke into “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and it hit me that Christmas was really here, and warmth and joy radiated around the room and the music soared and filled us, I started to cry. Figures: Standing in the place Dad may have disliked the most — church — is when I lost control.

I never knew my Dad’s parents. Granddad died before I was born, and Nan died maybe a year after. I’ve heard stories, but in most senses they’re blurry to me. Faces in photos. Ideas, not realities. Mom tells me that Nan poured a lot of her grief and loneliness into me, and that I brought her comfort and we had a really special bond. I love hearing that, but I don’t remember it. I was a baby. I love them because they gave me Dad, who was brilliant and hilarious and lively and unique and half of my DNA. I love them because that’s what you do with grandparents. But it’s a nebulous love. It doesn’t come from knowledge.

And I realized that’s what it’s going to be like for my kids, with Dad. They may hear about Dad. I will tell them how they used to run up to him and fling themselves at him, how they would climb up next to him and pick at his glasses, how he would sneak them sips of Diet Coke and then giggle at their “ew, gross, what’s that, I NEED MORE IMMEDIATELY” reactions, or how they’d sit on his lap while he played Snood. They’ll probably smile, and one day get sick of me getting misty over it, and they will love him because I loved him and because I told them he loved them and because that’s what you do with family. But it will be nebulous. It won’t come from knowledge.

So just as I yearn to have known them because it would fill in so much color around what I know of my father, so too will my kids be denied the chance to experience someone who is a HUGE part of who I have become. They would understand me if they ever met him. The connections would be so much stronger. A to B to C and so forth. There’s a reason we don’t jump in at B; the progression just makes more sense. But we’re missing our A.

Of course, I never knew the difference. I knew Mom’s parents but not Dad’s. That’s just the way it was. My kids won’t know any different. That may be a blessing — you can’t mourn what you never knew, really. Seeing it from this side, though, I understand how much that must have nibbled at Dad all those years, wishing his parents could have seen how we turned out and how he raised us. Just wishing they’d had more time. There is never enough time. And in the end he didn’t have enough either.

But onto happier things.

Aside from one limp nage I made, the holiday meals were all great, the colds we caught (and gave to a few people… sorry, y’all) finally went away, and the boys were cute and delightful and happy and made it easy for us to pull ourselves out of the darkness. They are such a marvel.

Liam woke up ailing on Christmas Day, so Dylan took up the present-opening mantle and carried it with aplomb. There were lots of OOOOOHs and YAYs, and nary a plea to go outside, which means they must’ve liked everything. They spent Christmas Eve gobbling down bangers and mash, our traditional dinner — as soon as the bangers came off the grill Liam took one look at them, eyes wide, and started chanting, “SAU-SA-GES. SAU-SA-GES” — and then boogying to my friend Amy’s Christmas mix (particularly amusing when a randy duet between Cyndi Lauper and The Hives came on, and they were dancing as blithely as if it were Yo Gabba Gabba). Then we snuggled up to watch Rudolph, and as soon as we saw the Bumble once, Dylan spent the entire rest of the time shouting, “UH-OH BUMBLE! WHA HAPPEN TO BUMBLE? OH NO! OH NO BUMBLE.” But not out of fear. To him, the Bumble was the hero of the piece. I think he must see similarities between Bumble and Liam.

We celebrated New Year’s at 9 p.m., so that we could watch MTV fete midnight on the East Coast, and let the dudes run around with noisemakers and poppers. And then it was over, and we all settled into another year, the first one my Dad will never see. Hopefully the first of many that we will, together, because as long as we do then he’s never really going to be gone. And over time that will stop hurting and start being a comfort.

And this photo makes me laugh. So that’s a start.

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5 responses to “Christmas Managed

  1. My dad died just before my wedding. Our baby is due right around his birthday, two years later.

    And all I can do is agree with everything you said, and misty eyes.

  2. Er, *with* misty eyes. Damn tears getting in the way of proof reading…

  3. I love that photo of your dad and Nan.

    Hugs to you.

  4. The first year we had Christmas without my grandfather, church was where I cried (in spite of the hideously loud rock band playing Christmas music at the front of the church).

    Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Such a beautiful post, Heather — and thank you so much for sharing these recent pictures of your boys. I still remember reading the blog you wrote when you found out you were pregnant — with twins — and I practically leapt up out of my computer chair with joy for you. Now, look at them — they’re not babies anymore — where does the time go? Such handsome little guys — happy new year to you and yours!