This is a guest blog post by our very good friend, author Mary Potter Kenyon. Enjoy!
I have no doubt that by the end of March I will be able to look back on the first year after David’s death and see clearly just how badly I’ve actually handled so many things. Our Christmas dinner, or lack of it, might be a good indicator…
I was so proud, having gotten through Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, relatively unscathed. One of my sons had bought breakfast pizzas for us to enjoy after we unwrapped the gifts, so we really weren’t hungry yet when Ben and Elizabeth joined us after attending a noon Mass. I enjoyed watching my grandchildren open their gifts, reveling in their squeals of joy. It was only when I heard one of them say, “I’m hungry,” that it occurred to me ~ I’d forgotten all about Christmas dinner. I always made a ham, potatoes, vegetables and rolls, and usually offered Ben and Elizabeth a plate, too. I felt it then; a looming sense of panic rising in me. How could I have forgotten Christmas dinner? What did I think my children were going to eat on Christmas day?
“What were you going to make for Christmas dinner?” one of my older children asked in a very reasonable tone, and I gulped. There was no real explanation for my behavior. I’d been so intent on getting through this first Christmas without David. I’d bought a new tree, decorated it with new balls, hung the stockings, mailed cards, purchased gifts and wrapped them with Katie’s help. We’d even made cut-out cookies, for gosh-sakes, something I had actually considered hiring a stranger to do.
What I hadn’t done was plan or prepare a Christmas meal.
Several faces were looking at me expectantly by this point, including those of my sweet, hungry grandchildren.
“I forgot all about Christmas dinner,” I finally admitted.
And no one batted an eye.
Which is how I ended up at the cemetery on my way to the Kwik Star for a frozen pizza.
Is there any sadder place to be than a cemetery on Christmas day? I wondered as I stood in front of David’s tombstone with a hand full of plastic Christmas flowers that I stuck into the snow. “I’m not doing too good without you,” I whispered, laying my hand on the top of the cold stone. “I miss you so much.”
Is there anything sadder than being in a cemetery on Christmas Day? Except, perhaps, a Kwik Star?
“I ended up in the cemetery,” I confessed to a stranger in line at Walmart the next morning when she asked how my Christmas had been. “And I forgot to make Christmas dinner,” I was going to add, until I saw her eyes fill with tears.
“Who did you lose?” I gently asked.
We talked as my purchases were rung up; about first Christmases, the sadness of ending up in a cemetery on a holiday, and about the pain of getting through that first year.
“They tell me it gets better,” she said with a sigh.
I thought I was there to get some spectacular deals on half-price gift sets that I had coupons for, but that had inexplicably been removed from the shelves. Instead, I now believe I was there to hug a stranger.
“Can I give you a hug?” I asked shyly before I left. She nodded eagerly, and one small sob escaped her as I squeezed her shoulders tightly.
Or I might just remember it as the year I learned what it means to reach out to others.
Written and originally posted on December 28, 2012 by Mary Potter Kenyon
It’s been seven years since the man I love ended his own life. I can’t say it gets easier, but I am developing the ability to keep myself grounded in today with new hope for my future. I am learning a lot about how trauma affects the body and brain and understanding this helps me to understand some of my own symptoms and the things I need to do for me as part of my own self-care: get lots of rest, eat nutritionally, exercise, find enjoyment in the present. I still have weepy days and other days I remember the good times but the loss has forever changed me for the better I think.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. We are so very sorry for your loss and commend you for your personal growth and change., Heather.
The hole in your heart never fills in. It just quits bleeding quite so profusely. But it only takes an unguarded moment for something to dislodge the scab and start the hemorrhage again.
Just know that you are not alone. Jesus has people in line to hug you and tell you that you are loved. But you have to be out among them. You can’t crawl into a cave and pull it in after you.
After a large family loss, people used to say things to me like “You’re so strong” and “I don’t see how you do it.”
I’d tell them I’m not strong, but I know where to lean, and that makes me look strong. Recovery is never total. Life is never restored to what it was. You simply learn a new normal and move on.
My grandmother used to say “when you don’t know what to do, just do the next thing.” I take that to mean the everyday needfuls that have to get done daily. The larger things will crop up a little at a time, and you’ll tackle them in the order they arise.
Remember, God is always there, even when it doesn’t look like it.
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, Judith. One of my family members also healed from significant trauma as she learned to do the “next thing” day by day. And it’s so important for people to understand that life is never restored to what it was after loss but we must learn to find our “new normal.” Yes, God is sustaining us, when we feel our most vulnerable.