It’s funny how grief unfolds over time. Funny isn’t really the word, more fascinating. This Christmas will mark twelve years since spending the holiday with my late husband Ben.
In the decade since he’s been gone, I have not erected our Christmas tree. The first few years, I traveled to relatives’ homes so it didn’t make sense to decorate. Then, I moved overseas and let go of the tree I owned and most of the decorations. When I remarried, we traveled over Christmas. Soon after, and for years, we lived a nomadic lifestyle. No home meant there was no place to decorate. For a decade, I didn’t even think about it.
One Christmas, while housesitting for friends who were putting up their tree before leaving, I was asked to help with the decorating. After placing the star on the top with the word JOY on it, the memories washed over me. The echo of laughter as Ben and I set up our first six-foot tree, a treat we had given ourselves to upgrade from the 3-foot one that was looking a little worse for wear. Christmas music filled the air as we delicately placed each shiny new bulb on the tree with care. Once finished, we squealed with delight at the sight of the twinkling lights.
We hosted Christmas that first year. Ben spent hours in front of the television watching Jamie Oliver making a decadent Christmas meal, scribbling copious notes to copy the feast for our own Christmas dinner. On Christmas Day, he busied himself in our tiny kitchen preparing goose, roasting vegetables, mixing then molding chocolate truffles and putting them in the fridge to set.
It was one of those rare ideal holidays that surpassed our high expectations. The meal was delicious. There was no family drama. The stack of carefully wrapped presents were opened and received with gratitude. At the end of the day, with relatives out the door, we made a video sharing season’s greetings with family members who could not be there. We were pleasantly exhausted and proud of ourselves. Neither of us realized it would be Ben’s last Christmas.
Fast forward: my current husband and I have a home after nearly five years of nomadic life. It’s the first time in our life together where we don’t have seasonal travel plans. Friends keep asking if we will get a tree. I say no without realizing the depth of my reason.
Until one recent day when my husband and I started to discuss the subject.
“So many people keep asking if we are getting a Christmas tree this year,” he began.
“I know,” I reply. “I tell them no, saying you don’t want one.”
“Hey! Why are you blaming me?” When he says this, I did not answer. It just seemed like an easy way out, to be honest. We sit in silence, eyes focused forward, while he continues to drive. After a few minutes go by, he raises an eyebrow.
“What if I surprised you with a Christmas tree?” he smiles.
My loving husband, who innocently insinuates his intention for what he feels would be a lovely surprise, causes me to freak out.
“NO!” I scream. “I don’t want you to die!”
And there we have it. An unconscious fear uncovered.
This fear makes no logical sense, yet it exists. Now that I know it exists, I can’t seem to shake it. That feeling that if we get a Christmas tree, it might be our last Christmas together. Even typing the words here makes me shudder.
My husband’s brow furrows with confusion as he looks at the road ahead. I explain my reasoning, which isn’t logical, but even so instills me with fear. His features soften as he listens. When I finish, he nods. “It’s okay to not have a Christmas tree.”
With his eyes on the road, he reaches over and squeezes my hand. I squeeze back.
Aimee DuFresne is an avid storyteller, experienced speaker, clutter clearing coach, and the author of Keep Going: From Grief to Growth. She follows the creative inspiration within, pairing it with coffee in the morning wine at night, and has a fierce determination to uncover joy in this wild life. Find out more at www.aimeedufresne.com.
Quite the opposite for me. The first Christmas after James was gone, I decided to decorate the house. It wasn’t easy but I did. I did it so I could remember the Christmases we had together with the family; I did it so my granddaughter would not be disappointed; I did it for the memories. That was four years ago now, and I have discovered it worked for me. Somehow, not to celebrate with decorations and food and company means that I deny James too.
Best wishes to you both for the season.