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I haven't really been able to celebrate Christmas this year. Or last year. Or the year before that. The year before that was my father's last Christmas. He spent it in a hospital bed that had been placed in his living room. It gave me horrid flashbacks to when I was eleven and we all thought he was going to die - he was in a hospital bed in the middle of our living room then, too, after throwing out his back and developing a blood clot in his lung that nearly killed him.

My father was the center of our holiday that year, four years ago. But then, he was the center of that holiday every year. He made our Christmases what they were. And I need to express that, to work through it, somewhere where I think people will understand, because even I don't really understand it yet.  

Christmas was my dad's biggest time of the year. He was like a little boy - exuberant and excited and always, always anticipating the holiday.

Dad was the one who brought down the decorations from the attic, arranged for the Christmas parties, cooked the big turkey dinner, wrapped the presents more elaborately than any department store ever could. Dad was the one who had holiday music playing (medieval Christmas music, the Hampton String Quartet's album "What if Mozart Wrote 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas'", the Singers Unlimited Jazz Christmas, Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas albums - the good stuff) starting the day after Thanksgiving, when we traditionally picked out the Christmas tree at the local tree farm, even though it wouldn't come home with us until a week before Christmas. That morning would always end with a pancake breakfast at a mom-and-pop that sadly no longer exists; when they went out of business, we switched to Denny's. That afternoon, Mom would bake Christmas cookies and then us kids would decorate them (badly) with royal icing, while Dad would put together two dozen fruitcakes for eventual gifts, preparing them to be soaked with rum through cheesecloth every day for the next 29 days.

Dad was excited and boisterous and happy about decorations, family visits, going caroling two or three nights before Christmas. He created this amazing wooden Advent calendar that was at least 3x5 feet. It hung over the fireplace every Christmas season. The "days" were wooden curtain rings with round backs on them and eye-hooks on the top, hung on rows of little hooks. The back of each one was painted with a lower-case Old English letter: t, or w, or m, or f. The insides of each one were different. Every day, one of us boys would get to turn over one of the new days and see a miniature scene that my Dad had created out of little wooden figurines. I remember week 3 best - it had a series of penguins with a snowy background, starting out with no snow in the air, then light snow, then heavier snow, then finally a blizzard. Each day, the penguins got a little smaller as the snow heaped up behind them. That calendar was a work of art.

December 6th was always the day we hung up our stockings because it was St. Nicholas' Day. We made a big production out of it. Then, after they were hung, we drew Secret Santas out of the metal Santa candy container.

There was an Advent wreath my Dad made that hung from a hook in the ceiling, with one pink and three purple candles and an incredibly ornate white candle in the center (the Christ candle, natch). Every Sunday during Advent, we'd light an additional candle, with the pink one being lit on the third Sunday of Advent, of course. The Sunday rings on the Advent calendar all had candles, to match the Advent wreath.

Every year after my grandfather died, Dad scheduled our family tree-raising on the day of his death - December 18th - as a way to honor his memory. Those were classic holiday parties. Mom and Dad invited everyone in the neighborhood over, since everyone else they invited were music people from their colleges and church choirs, and we were going to be noisy. We'd go to the tree farm in the morning, have the tree fresh-cut, and bring it home and set it up on the tree stand that my Dad had built - a square table about two feet high, with legs that folded out like a card table, with the tree stand firmly bolted to its top. Up went the tree, with some struggle and colorful language from both my parents (traditional). Once it was stabilized, Dad would test all the white twinkle lights - white ONLY; my dad was a purist about that - and then wrap the tree in them, and put the angel on the top (one my parents had had since their marriage). After that, Dad would be on the floor with my littlest brother, setting up the LGB-scale train set to run around the base of the tree, attaching a pipe-cleaner wreath to the front of the engine, and making sure that there was space for gifts as well. Meantime, my other brother, my mom, and I were emptying packing boxes of ornaments into baskets on the family-room table. The big box of plastic, styrofoam, and other nonbreakable ornaments was placed on the floor near the fireplace for the little kids coming to the party. After those were all set out, Mom and Dad were in the kitchen making huge tureens of French onion soup and split-pea soup with a ham bone in it, for the party that evening, and my brothers and I got our Christmas cookies out of the big freezer in the garage and put them out on plates on the dining-room table (pulled out to accommodate both leaves, and decorated to the nines for Christmas) to thaw. Late in the afternoon, just before people started arriving, Dad would make Wassail in the big glass punch bowl while Mom got the soups into the tureens and the Crock Pot and got them onto the sideboard in the dining room.

The price for coming to our tree-raisings was threefold, and always cheerfully paid by everyone who came to them. First, you had to bring some small dish for the potluck that was in some way related to the season. We always had a groaning board. Second, you had to hang three ornaments on the tree. Everyone always hung more than that. Third, you had to bring your copy of the score of Handel's Messiah, which everyone had, and be ready to sing along when the time came, with my father conducting and my mother playing the piano. The time usually came at about ten p.m. (hence our invitations to the neighbors), and man, did we fill that house with song? We did. "Making a joyful noise" was just what my father did, and he got all the rest of us to make it along with him. Imagine seventy people at a party singing like it was a flash mob, and you'll get the idea of what it was like.

Christmas Eve was when my father arm-wrestled the naked turkey and got it into the oven to slow-roast by one p.m. for dinner the next day at four p.m. The evening was spent at church for Midnight Mass, where my father was the choir director; when we would get home the entire house smelled of roasting turkey, the fireplace doors were open, the stockings were bulging, the presents were all under the tree, and there was a footprint outlined in ash on the hearth. We'd notice that the Baby Jesus figure was in the manger in our gorgeous Nativity set, and he hadn't been there before we left. Our faith in Santa was restored for another year (until I was about thirteen and found out that my mom and dad arranged with the next-door neighbor to come in after we were gone and set it all up). We'd sing Happy Birthday to Jesus, then go to bed until at least seven a.m., where my brothers and I would lie awake for a half hour and then crash until my parents woke us up. We were allowed to open our stocking presents before breakfast, but everything else had to wait until after - and the stocking presents were almost always the same: new toothbrushes, brushes and combs, a bar of chocolate, a big stick of peppermint candy, a small stuffed animal, and a huge apple or orange in the toe of the stocking. Christmas morning was French toast and scrambled eggs with hot apple cider every year. Christmas afternoon, our family descended on the house - my parents' parents, my mother's older brothers, and sometimes my dad's sister flown down from Oregon. That was the stressful part, the family part. That also pretty much ended except for my dad's mom and sister when I was about fourteen.

The Three Kings continued to move from the windowsill, where they'd been placed the same day the Nativity set went up, towards the Nativity set every day from Christmas to Epiphany, January 6th, when they finally arrived. My parents had this gorgeous hand-carved wooden Nativity set from Italy, but they were never able to get the third King, so we had the two human kings (Melchior and Balthazar) and the elephant, who was "King Babar."

January 7th, everything was taken down and put away. The tree went out to the street, the ornaments went back up to the attic, and the holidays were over for another year. While it was a let-down in some ways, we also knew we had the whole year to look forward to the next Christmas season, which was only ten months away.

My mother didn't seem to enjoy Christmas the way my father did. She put up with it, I think. Everything about what she did was a chore, it seemed like. The difference was night and day. She crocheted our stockings; I remember that. She put the mantelpiece decorations up, with boughs of the juniper bushes from in front of our house as a base. She played the piano for the Messiah sing-along. She made the onion soup and the split-pea soup for the tree-raising. But she always got tense and worried when people were coming over; she just didn't enjoy Christmas the way my Dad did. She didn't get along well with her family of origin, and I think she was a little happier after her family just stopped coming over to the house for a number of reasons I won't get into here (except to say that her stress about and with them was totally justified). But for her, Christmas was just a big chore and a source of worry, not happiness.

When I was in my twenties, the local paper interviewed people about what they thought Christmas was. When asked what made Christmas what it was for me, I answered "My father. He's always so gung-ho about everything to do with this holiday. I can't imagine it without him." I'm sure you can understand why.

Well, he's been gone for four years, next month. And I haven't really had Christmas since he died. I haven't been able to bear it. When he died, the Advent calendar went to my middle brother, who's just had a new baby. The Advent wreath and the Nativity set went to my youngest brother, who still has kids at home. I got the soup tureen and the punch bowl. They haven't been used even once since he died.

Part of this is because of money. Most of the decorations my father had are gone, and there's no way I can ever reproduce them. Part of this is because we've moved twice since he died and I'm still not recovered from that.

But most of it is because without my Dad, it just doesn't feel like Christmas. I'm not sure it ever will again. My partner went to his parents' house yesterday for a few hours, but I couldn't go. I couldn't bring myself to celebrate a holiday that's so deeply tied to my father.

I hope you all had a good Christmas. Maybe someday, I will again too.

Originally posted to Killer of Sacred Cows on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 12:34 PM PST.

Also republished by Personal Storytellers, Invisible People, Street Prophets , and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (112+ / 0-)

    "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." - Hubert Humphrey

    by Killer of Sacred Cows on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 12:34:32 PM PST

  •  I decorated my Christmas tree this year, but just (27+ / 0-)

    could not put on any of the many ornaments students had given me a gifts over my years of teaching.  I always enjoy remembering these children, but in light of Sandy Hook school shooting, it was too painful to do this year.

  •  Thanks for sharing that (22+ / 0-)

    It makes me remember what I value, and why.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    by twigg on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 12:49:05 PM PST

  •  I'm sitting here in tears...your Dad sounds (34+ / 0-)

    wonderful!  I'm sorry you're not able to celebrate with him now.

    I lost my sixteen year old son three years ago on December 2nd and I can't celebrate anymore either.

    Just know that one day we will be with them again and that will be the best Christmas ever!

    “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.”-Brandi Snyder (in memory of my Nick)

    by YellowDogInGA on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 12:55:20 PM PST

  •  Start a holiday of your own. (37+ / 0-)

    Or just enjoy the day doing whatever you want to do.  Christmas was never a big deal in my family.  When I had a family of my own, I decided I would make it a big deal.  I was gung ho (although it sounds like your dad was the king of gung ho!) and really did it up - every year.

    After my childeren grew up, everytime I displeased my daughter, she withheld the holidays from me.  She would stay away and/or not call.  Sometimes, she withheld the grandchildren, too.  The last four years were different.  We got along.  Christmas was at my house and they'd bring all the gifts, we'd open gifts, and have a lovely meal.

    This year, I displeased her, again, so she decided to punish me, again.  I purchased gifts for my grandchildren (actually took them shopping and bought them the clothes they needed) and told my daughter this is my last Christmas.  I told her I would not be held hostage ever again.  The grandkids are in HS, so if they need something, I told them to let me know but I would no longer "do" Christmas.

    My husband and I enjoyed a peaceful day and ate steak and lobster at home.  It was a great day and a yummy meal.  I'm done with this sham.  I know it wasn't a sham for you but I had to vent and you gave me that opportunity.  Thanks.

    In the future, make the day meaningful to you anyway you can.  It's the opportunity for a fresh start.

    being mindful and keepin' it real

    by Raggedy Ann on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 12:59:22 PM PST

  •  Christmas was always my mom's big holiday, (21+ / 0-)

    partly because her birthday was 12/22 and she made it into a multi-day party.  We lost her in 2001 and it just hasn't been the same.  We all got together at my sister's home for Christmas that year and - no lie - all the needles fell off her tree the morning we were all arriving.  It was kinda like a cosmic message of "you're not going to have fun without here".  

    But eventually we did start to enjoy Christmas again.  She loved it so much and wanted everyone to be merry and hanging out with family.  So we did.  And she was there in spirit (especially during the Euchre games).

    You may not get to the point of feeling festive at Christmas again, but if you do, I hope every smile and every laugh brings back a happy thought of your dad.

  •  Sweetie, make the soup. (18+ / 0-)

    Use the tureen.  Just...don't associate it right away with Christmas.

    I would love split pea soup for New Year's Eve.  Maybe I will even make it!  But...the tureen would be perfect for something like Cheddar cheese soup, topped with popcorn (yes, it's a real recipe).

    All I'm saying can enjoy and celebrate with similar things, even though you can't quite do so for Christmas without your father.

    To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

    by Youffraita on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 01:07:03 PM PST

  •  one day you will celebrate again - in honor of (15+ / 0-)

    your father and his love of christmas.

    you will see that christmas wasn't about him - it was about all of YOU, so when that day cimes when you "feel" it again, it will be because he is there with you.

  •  I can understand why you feel the way you do. You (15+ / 0-)

    have to do (or not do) whatever is right for you. It's nice to have a place where you can write down how you feel, though. So thank you for sharing your memories.

  •  I get it (12+ / 0-)

    My mom died suddenly at a relatively young age just before Christmas 1993. For years after, it just wasn't the same.  I used to love Christmas, but it became such a depressing time of years for a number of years.

    That atmosphere has changed now that I have had my own kids for the better part of a decade.  It is hard to be gloomy when they are so full of infectious excitement.  Now I think the whole thing goes by way too quickly.  My one regret is that I almost feel locked into sharing my day with my wife and her dysfunctional relationship with her mom.  I pretty much spent Christmas Day this year getting yelled at, so that kinda sucked...

  •  I don't think that I have ever known or even (11+ / 0-)

    known of any one who incorporated so many traditions and detailed preparations, so many activities large and small, and so much family sharing and interactivity in the celebration of Christmas.  You were extraordinarily fortunate to have had those years, and the selflessness of your father who made it all a reality is just amazing.  What a great tribute.

    I think that most of us can identify with certain changes that alter other events to an extent forever, but I'm sure that you'll eventually find a substitution that will also be a happy one, though different.

    Thanks for sharing the warmth of the embers on an otherwise cold day.

  •  Your father sounds like an amazing individual. (11+ / 0-)

    I know memories are never equal to the actual experience of having the person still there. But I am glad for your sake that you have such good memories of your Dad and Christmas with him.

    I hope that someday you are able to enjoy Christmas again. Wishing you as much peace and joy as possible -- if not now, then in the New Year, or years to come.

  •  I understand your story. (14+ / 0-)

    Our Christmas celebrations were like yours - big! The only difference is that both my parents got ino the preparations, decorating, and celebrations. We had great Christmas parties, and always more than one each year.

    Both my parents have been deceased for many years. I never really celebrated Christmas after their deaths.

    So for the past 20 years or so I do something simple. I take a big box of quality chocolates to the hospital for the nurses to enjoy, and they love it!

    That is my Christmas now, and it is enough for me. I have great memories of my parent's Christmas celebrations and parties, but I knew when they died that would never be again.

    So I thought I would do something simple for my own tradition: Bingo! Chocolates for the nurses.

  •  I know so well what its like to lose a parent (11+ / 0-)

    around the holidays. I lost my Mom to cancer back in 2004 3 days after Christmas, I lost my Stepfather about Dec. 12, I lost my Father of Dec. 8th, and I had to put my beloved pet cat down in 2009 from cancer. I know what its like to struggle over the holidays, and I did again this year. Your not alone....

  •  This diary is a wonderful tribute (16+ / 0-)

    to your father.  I read the part about the wooden advent calender a couple of times to fully imagine such a wonderful thing.

    From your description of him, I think he would be sad to see you so grief stricken every year during the time he loved the best. I say this not to produce any guilt in you for your feelings, but rather to consider what his wishes might be for you.

    Who knows, but my guess is he had no need for you to be him, or to step into his Christmas footsteps.  But rather, to simply be at peace during this time, in whatever way works best for you.

    I agree with others here who suggest you find your way to a different kind of Christmas, maybe as your partner suggested, on a totally different day, with different traditions.

    I lost my father this last fall, and there was a big hole in our Christmas. But I always think of a quote from a novel I forgot the rest of long ago:

    "Never fear your tears for those you've loved and have passed.  They are the portal to your memories of them, and once through the door, the heart is free to smile in remembrance."

    It always works for me. The more free reign I give to the tears the shorter they last, seems they can't compete with all the memories of my dear dad, and the smile in my heart he earned.

    "A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues." Theodore Roosevelt.

    by StellaRay on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 03:23:23 PM PST

  •  Bless him! (8+ / 0-)

    My dad was much the same. He knew all the rituals and brought them to life.  A week before, he's start reading A CHRISTMAS CAROL to us, one stave a night, leaving Christmas eve for the Clement Moore poem.  The tree always 'magically' appeared on Christmas eve, to be decorated with cocoa and cookies.  Cookies and milk were always left for Santa on the hearth. I've tried my best to keep this all alive for my children and now my grandchildren.  "God bless us every one".

  •  Therapy (7+ / 0-)

    Lots of love given and received. Start new tratditions, and help others.  I meiss my parents a lot, they were good with Christmas. Love and good luck.


  •  I couldn't celebrate Christmas this year, either (31+ / 0-)

    I enjoyed reading your warm-and-fuzzy memories of the Christmases of your childhood.   Mine were similar.

    But this year was difficult.  My mother died in late September, on her 87th birthday.  My dad had a major heart attack at her gravesite service, was in the hospital for the next 10 days, and never really quite recovered.  His physicians said the damage from the heart event was severe.  Dad was 89 at the time.  My parents had been married 69 years.  Dad was forlorn after Mom's death.

    So we made plans to be home with him on the opposite coast for his 90th birthday, Dec. 6th.   He had told one of my siblings, when asked how he felt about his impending birthday, "Well, I talked with The Lord about that and told Him that if He would let me live 'til my 90th birthday, then He could take me the next day or any time after that."

    As we were preparing to leave for our trip to see him, Dad went down.  He had another heart attack and was in the hospital.  My siblings said, "Hurry!"

    Before we could arrive, Dad was moved to a local Hospice facility.  So we drove there straight from the airport.  This is one day before his birthday.  He was suffering from congestive heart failure, and his body was generally shutting down.  It was his time to go.

    The Hospice facility was beautiful.   What a place to die in.   Beautifully decorated for Christmas, with angel ornaments and decor everywhere.   The place was fragrant (not like a nursing home or a hospital!), very warm and cozy.  The staff must be angels in disguise or angels in training.  They were so sweet, caring and loving.  I had no idea that a "facility" could be like this.  Dad's room was private, large, comfortable, with a lovely view of a fountain out the window.

    Dad was just conscious enough to extend his hand to my spouse and me, to manage a little smile, and greet us.   The family said he had been so looking forward to our arrival, even before he went to the hospital.

    So I just stayed with my Dad there, straight from the cross-country flight.  Dad had suffered some difficult moments that day, struggling to breathe through the fluids filling his lungs.  But as I slept curled up in a lounge chair, Dad slept quietly all night.  If I woke up at intervals to check on him and found him not breathing, my heart would clench until at last he would take a soft, deep breath.  

    At midnight, it became his 90th birthday.  So I sang Happy Birthday to him gently in his ear.   He smiled in his sleep.

    So my Dad's last bucket-list wish came true.   He lived to be 90-years old.   Hospice kept him comfortable and quiet all through the day as the family gathered around him.

    Then, three hours into the next day, Dad passed quietly away.   It was Pearl Harbor Day.  Dad was an old WWII Vet, and he had chosen a military funeral and to be buried in the local military cemetery, where my mother had just preceded him.

    So their 69-year love affair came to The End.   It was harder on me than I ever thought it would be.  

    So Christmas has been difficult this year.  The first one without them.   The spouse valiantly tried to put the sparkle back in, with a beautifully decorated tree, but nothing felt the same or familiar.   The grieving process evidently has its own time and ways.

    I loved reading your memories of your Christmases with your dad.   I understand how you feel today.  I do.  Take care.

    •  Thank You - N/T (9+ / 0-)

      "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

      by linkage on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 06:45:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  What a beautiful story, sockpuppet (8+ / 0-)

      Thank you for sharing.  I'm so glad you were able to be with him.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 05:10:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for your kind comments. (6+ / 0-)

        The whole situation was so eerily scripted.   The way Dad just conveniently passed away when we already had the travel plans and were there.   Dying almost on his birthday, as my mom had died on hers, a couple of months earlier.

        Something else happened in that whole sacred-passing event.   Mom and Dad had a beautiful caregiver who took care of them exclusively for the past 4 years.   She was a young black woman, a CNA, who loved my parents dearly.  You just can't buy that level of care and devotion.   Her name was Leticia.

        Leticia was extremely grief-stricken over my dad's move to the hospice facility.  She was in denial that he was dying.  She actually thought we moved him there to hasten his passing, especially with the morphine he was given to ease his suffering.  

        That night of Dad's birthday, she was especially distraught.  I held her in my arms while she cried, and my clothes were wet with her tears.   She said that she couldn't watch "what we were doing to him", so she left.

        At about 1:00am on the 7th, we called her to let her know the hospice staff had told us This Was It.   Any moment now.  Leticia again refused to come back to Dad's side.  She said she just couldn't watch us "put him away".  She really just didn't understand how badly he was suffering with the congestive heart failure.  Heavy doses of morphine were a kindness.

        Another 90 minutes passed, and Dad was still holding on.  Finally, my sister called Leticia and said to her on the phone:  "You need to get here.  He's waiting for you."  She said she would hurry to the hospice.

        When  Leticia arrived,  she went to his side, took his hand, weeping, and told him gently that she was there.   He then took three deep breaths and quietly passed away as the third breath was expelled.   That is when Leticia got closure on my parents' passing.  

        Scripted, I tell ya.  My comment to all the atheists reading this:  there were just too many "coincidences" around both of my parents' passings.   I asked often during the following days (more amazing "scripted", improbable things occurred) as we prepared for Dad's funeral service, "How many coincidences does it take for us to begin to see a pattern?"

        I dunno.  I came back home a bit stunned.  Besides the grief of losing them this year, the perfect-ness of it all has touched me somewhere very deep inside.  I can't even articulate it.   It's like our family experienced a holy event.  With angels present.  Or something.

        One thing I will say about my parents' passings:  they had taken care of all the preparations for their funerals years in advance.  So all was already paid for, the flowers, even the limos for the services and the trip out to the military cemetery gravesite.   Both services were very beautiful.

        Rest in peace, Mom and Dad.  We're so happy to know you're both together again.  Amen.

    •  I'm so sorry for your loss, sockpuppet (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sockpuppet, mikidee, worldlotus

      When I read this I didn't quite know what to say. Thank you for sharing your story.

      "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." - Hubert Humphrey

      by Killer of Sacred Cows on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 11:51:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  My Mom was buried on Dec. 17 amid a heavy snow, (8+ / 0-)

    five years ago. Every time we have a big snow I imagine Mom looking down and laughing at our foolish efforts to get the family from the funeral service to the burial site, 45 miles away.  She would have loved the trip through the detours and weather delays --- just her kind of weather!

  •  So many emotions come up for all of us around (7+ / 0-)

    the holidays, but you now have it in spades, and till
    we go through enough grieving for any loss (it's different
    for different people) Christmas will be hard for you. Expressing how hard it is for you here sure helps, and may you come to a point where Christmas feels "more ordinary."

    It's time, space, and lots of grieving. But many of us out here, who feel emotions acutely around the holidays for any individual reason, know that fellow Kossacks like you are out there, too. It all helps. And it all adds to the process.

    Here's to you, and to our common humanity!

    "They come, they come To build a wall between us We know they won't win."--Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over."

    by Wildthumb on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 04:42:33 PM PST

  •  In a way (12+ / 0-)

    I know the feeling.

    My mother passed away about a year and a half ago, on the holiday of Shavuot.  We haven't yet really had a regular return of the holiday without her; last year, being her first yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing), was different.  I'm not looking forward to this year's.

    I miss her terribly.

  •  To You (11+ / 0-)

    who are grieving, whether from loss by passage or by the intransigence of relatives, I wish you peace.  I am in late middle age, my mother died seven years ago after some years of dementia, and my father is slowly slipping away at ninety-four.  I contemplate the coming years with trepidation and no small amount of guilt for what old Ebenezer called "the time I've wasted"  but I see comfort as well in small traditions of my own, as my family did not have much in the way of holiday traditions other than spending time with family.  I worry that my children's traditions may lack room for me.  

    Perhaps for us atheists-who-love-Christmas, the focus should just be on the passages themselves.  I will always love the music, even if the message doesn't really resonate.  Finding ways to be with loved ones, family-of-birth or family-of-choice may be the best answer to the grief.

    Eat, drink, and be fat and drunk.

    by Ref on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 05:08:07 PM PST

  •  I understand how you feel. My dad hasn't put up (9+ / 0-)

    the Christmas tree since mom passed in 2007.  Their wedding anniversary was December 1st.  There were bunches of 'rituals' they went through every year for the wedding anniversary and putting up the tree.  We usually put up the tree just after Thanksgiving, first weekend in December.  So, the Christmas tree and their anniversary are tied together.

    Dad comes over to my place to look at my tree.

  •  I hope you can find a way (11+ / 0-)

    to celebrate again. It sounds like he would want you to. Your story sounds a lot like my own childhood Christmases, and my father also loved it and made Christmas a magical time. I lost him two days before Christmas almost 20 years ago now. That year I somehow managed to get the tree up. I turned up the Messiah, went into his room where he was on a hospital bed and told him the tree was decorated. It was the last time I saw him smile. Christmas is hard for me, but I have tried to carry on in his Spirit and I am now the Christmas Person of my family. I think of Dad while I hang the decorations and sing the songs, and through the years the pain has faded and the good memories shine through.

  •  Thank You ... (7+ / 0-)

    Re-Published to Street Prophets.


    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 06:41:21 PM PST

  •  Some of the most meaningful moments in life are (8+ / 0-)

    memories.  In fact life is nothing more than a collection of memories, and they don't come in ever-ascending order.  

    Those Christmases with your father still exist and are as real as anything in your life.

    Christmas present will never be the same without your father.  He was amazing.  He was unique.  So are your Christmas memories.

    I hope you are able to get beyond your father's death and embrace the warmth, security and happiness that his Christmases gave you, and that he meant for you to enjoy forever.  

    And who the hell is Grover Norquist???

    by ZedMont on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 08:37:30 PM PST

  •  Four years is not a long time. (7+ / 0-)

    I'm sure the loss is still raw and especially at a time when your dad would have filled with so much "special," it's got to be hard not to have that there. Hold onto your memories--they are awesome! Recognize, too, the love that he was sharing through all that and know that he'd want you to love yourself and find a way to be happy. Take care!

    An unsuccessful shoe bomb attack resulted in nine years of inconvenience for every flier in the country. It would be nice to think [this diabolical act] might lead to some similar inconveniences. --mrblifil

    by Debby on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 08:56:35 PM PST

  •  You were lucky to have a father. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cv lurking gf, JBL55, mikidee, sockpuppet

    I will never know that joy.  Remember it fondly, as you seem to do.  But cherish that you had it.

  •  You, sir, are an uncommon writer (8+ / 0-)

    This entry touched me considerably. My first thought was, "This fellow deserves to be published. More people need to read this." Then I sensed the pain, or loss, or perhaps the emptiness you now experience at Christmas. Your father was extraordinary, and he set up a very hard act to follow. He reminds me a bit of my own father.

    I lost Christmas twice in my life. The first time, I was 12 years old, and my mom had finally told me the truth about Santa Claus. I remember asking her, "Does this mean the Easter bunny's not real either? ...and the Tooth Fairy?" My child's faith had been shown to be for naught. I didn't consider my new knowledge to enable me to be in on the grand joke. I coupled this betrayal with any faith in God my parents had tried to instill.

    Later during college when I was exposed to all manner of choices, I tried on some new faiths and activities. Ultimately, faith found me again, but this time I accepted it with my heart and eyes wide open. I determined, tho, never to make Christmas such a magical, unbelievable time that I had to lie to my children about it. It was special enough as a special time all on its own.

    After 15 years, my family experienced a house fire. All our cherished ornaments from the last Christmas to long ago years when my parents, grandparents, and great grandmother sent each of my sons a special ornament. No one had died; I merely lost cherished possessions that commemorated precious memories.

    I had no interest in making any effort for Christmas after that. I didn't play the piano, or bake cookies. No decorations. Nothing. But one year I was out and about one December and found a lovely tiny tree, two feet tall. It had only a few snowflakes on it. I brought it home. The next year, I saw another tiny tree, a few inches taller. I took it home and added a small string of lights. The following year I saw a very tiny tree that glistened all over with tiny golden pine cones. I now had a small forest of trees. These were easy to keep, no special decorations were needed, and I began to enjoy at least a bit of ambiance of Christmas again. Now I can only visit long distance with my loved ones, we live so far apart. The absence makes our hearts grow fonder, which is very sweet. I've come to believe that God the Father misses us when we stay away even more.

    I see a gift within you. There are probably more I can't see. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal story...and for telling it so well. Reading it was a gift for me.

  •  What a wonderful story about your father! (6+ / 0-)

    Truly, your memory of him is something to be cherished.

    I'm sorry you can't celebrate Christmas any more, but it's understandable.

    Perhaps one day you'll be able to create your own traditions--equally wonderful, but different.

    I grew up in a family of atheists, but we always celebrated Christmas.  The fun part has to do with the Roman Saturnalia, the Teutonic tribes' tradition of Yule log and evergreens, and the Druid tradition of mistletoe, not the birth of Jesus Christ.

    The best part is that after Winter Solstice the days will get longer and longer--almost imperceptibly, but surely.


    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 05:00:55 AM PST

  •  with much loss, there is much grief. (6+ / 0-)

    I loved reading your Christmas memories. I'm more like your mom in that the chores undermine the fun, but I do like having the people and the music and the food and the prettiness.  we had no family gathering this year so I also grieved a little.  a drop compared to your ocean: your fall into mourning came from such high joy. I'm sorry.  may love begin to fill that ocean with life and energy, with waves of your inherited joys flowing over you again by next Christmas.

    sometimes I spend more time reading the comments than the diaries. no offense to diarists: thanks for the launch pad.

    by dunnjen on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 06:36:27 AM PST

  •  If this diary is not a celebration of Christmas .. (5+ / 0-)

    ... then I don't know what is.

    Thank you for writing and sharing!

    {{{{{{{{{{{{Killer of Sacred Cows}}}}}}}}}}}}

    "The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another." ~ George Bancroft (1800-1891)

    by JBL55 on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 06:48:31 AM PST

  •  Reading your diary reminded me of... (5+ / 0-)

    my childhood. My parents had six kids and we had great Christmas's.
    My dad died in '98 and we are all grown up and for a while
    I did not find Christmas too appealing.

    In the past 3 years I have really came back strong on Christmas.  I get excited with the approaching Holiday.
    It's fun to me again..albeit for different reasons.
    I'm an Atheist, but have made this Holiday my own and look forward to it every year.

    "Saying atheism is a religion is like saying not collecting stamps is a hobby".

    by progresso on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 06:57:25 AM PST

  •  Beautiful diary. I haven't really (6+ / 0-)

    done much about Christmas since my mom died thirteen years ago on December 23rd. (As Crashing Vor put it, "Only your mom would try to outdo baby Jesus.") We had big celebrations, with a minimum of twenty people showing though between forty and fifty were the average, and a few years close to seventy, along with those who just dropped by throughout the day. We had twelve foot trees, fires in the fireplaces, open bar, a fourteen foot long dining table always filled with food. Men whose families had disowned them "adopted" my family - I had bunches of dads. Women who never had children were my extra moms. Other families came, the neighbors, people from across the state. Of course, many drank too much, including my parents, there would be some melt-downs, but it was so BIG! Dad died twenty-nine years ago, but Mom continued the celebrations - a lot of her life was parties, big or small.

    I moved to another state after her death; too many expected me to step into her place, despite having five other siblings. CV and I did put up trees the first few years, for the cat, but then she died too, and I just could not do it anymore. This year, CV made cornbread, as he does weekly for a neighbor; we visited her at the nursing home where she unfortunately had to move recently. We sat with her, held her hand, stroked her head, while she talked of how she never expected this, that "you never know" and I agreed. Then we came home and read books. That was enough of a celebration. I've had years of bigger than life experiences in fifty-five years than most can imagine. No event will ever match my memories again and I'm okay with that.  It took a number of years, but I'm content. Whether you choose to pick up your father's rituals and make them live again, or find a quiet way, or some place in between, it will come. The loss is always there, but boy, aren't we lucky people?

    "You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty." Mohandas Gandhi

    by cv lurking gf on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 07:16:22 AM PST

  •  (((hugs))) (5+ / 0-)

    My dad taught me how to decorate a tree. I remember him testing the lights strings to find the burnt out bulbs. He built us an advent tower which lit up when you opened the little doors. There were six of us kids. With the gift we gave each other, gifts from various aunts and uncles and grandparents and then from Santa, there was always a flood of presents Christmas morning. Inevitably, sometime during the post Christmas week, and often on Christmas day itself, my mother would go into meltdown and then my father would loose it too and that would be the end of Christmas for that year.

    My dad left us when I was sixteen. He's remarried to a wonderful woman and every year they donate money in my kids' names to Heifer International instead of sending presents.

    Each of us kids have gone on to make our own Christmas traditions. One of my brothers always takes his family on a trip. Last year they went to Costa Rica. Another brother does the whole midnight mass route. None of us wants to recapture the "Flood of Presents" from our childhood so we don't exchange gifts, unless it's a small silly gift for the whole family. But it's completely optional and no reciprocity is expected. I couldn't be closer to my brothers but the last thing any of us want is more crap and clutter.

    I'm pretty much an atheist these days as well as an anthropologist, so my take on Christmas is a little different. Maybe it will help.

    I see Christmas as the essential rite of the nuclear family. It is the structural inverse of Halloween which is the rite of community. The two holidays are mediated by Thanksgiving, the rite of extended family and friends. Christmas and Halloween focus on the children while Thanksgiving is the adult holiday.

    Everything about Christmas is a mirror image of Halloween. Halloween: Outdoors, the neighborhood, dusk, death images, groups of children in disguises, threats of naughtiness. Christmas: Indoors, the hearth, dawn, birth images, a solitary mysterious adult in disguise, good behavior promised. At Halloween, we put fire inside a pumpkin and put it outside. At Christmas we bring the outside inside with the tree in the living room and bake the pumpkin into a pie. And so on.

    At Christmas it is important to make your own traditions with your own family, traditions that work for you and that honor what is most important to your life. For many years before I had kids, I would wrapped hundreds of gifts for organizations that gave presents to children that otherwise wouldn't have a present under the tree.

    Both my children have December birthdays, so December is a big month for us no matter how you slice it. Also both my children are giant fans of the British Sci Fi series Doctor Who. So they set up a little tree in their TARDIS (which is a spare room they've converted into the Doctor's time traveling police box). The Doctor comes and delivers science presents and vintage clothes. This year we donated some money to a locate community theater group so they could put on a production of Scrooge for the community.

    The magic of Christmas is the magic WE give it, whether it's a month long lighting display worthy of Vegas culminating in an orgy of presents under of plastic Christmas tree or a quiet walk in the wood with a loved one followed by a simple meal well prepared local food or working in a soup kitchen serving Christmas dinner to homeless folks.

    Your dad worked his Christmas magic because he loved his family so much. The magic was your Father, not the holiday. The hardest part of Christmas for everyone is the stress and tension between the Christmases of our childhood (good or bad) and the Christmases where we are in charge. How do we include grandma and grandpa? Do we go to their house, invite them over or sneak away with just our partner? And then when and if we have kids, what traditions do we create for them? And if Christmas is too painful, then emphasize a different part of the Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas cycle. These rites are constantly evolving cultural constructs that serve a purpose in our culture. Halloween depends on the community working together. Thanksgiving is a time for feasting with the extended family and close friends. And Christmas is for you, your partner and your children. If you don't have kids, then do whatever makes you happy, affirms life and spreads a little joy and cheer in this world. Give yourself the gift of peace and renewal.

    Peace, joy and hugs to you and to your wonderful dad who lives on in your heart.

    A working man robs a bank and it's a federal manhunt. A banker robs a working man and gets a bailout.

    by Grassroots Mom on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 07:17:01 AM PST

  •  My mom = Your dad (2+ / 0-)

    Our holiday was not as elaborate as yours, but mom was the one in my house that made the holiday what it was. When we lost her to cancer, it was hard that first year. But then my wife and I decided to carry her tradition forward. We decorate like she did, we host the party, we do the meal. Always with her in mind. It’s been 20 years, but I still miss her at this time.

    Your father sounds like an amazing man, who raised a family and made the world around him a better place, especially at this time of year. My suggestion to you is, do the same. The best thing you can do to preserve his legacy is to take that tradition, those wonderful memories that you have, and make them your own. It won’t be what he did, but it will be special. I bet that is what you dad would like you to do. And don’t think of reasons you can’t do it. So many good ideas, good times, and good intentions get lost because we think of reasons we can’t. Just do it. Decide right now, that next holiday you will do something thing. I bet you will be glad you did.

    I am so glad my wife and I decided to make an attempt at what my mom did. What we do is different, but it’s just as special. All the best.

    Impossible is nothing

    by DrSpike on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 08:08:56 AM PST

  •  Are you OK? It is normal to grieve, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    But 4 years is a long time. You deserve to enjoy what your father enjoyed about the holidays. Could you possible be depressed? Please get checked out. You sound very sad for four years later.

    My dog is a member of Dogs Against Romney: He rides inside.

    by adigal on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 08:12:26 AM PST

    •  I agree- are you okay? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      my own father passed 3 or 4 years ago while i lived in Singapore. i have visited his gravestone twice since then. Embarrassingly, I don't remember which year, or the exact date (December thought), because the grieving came long before that as he slowly faded prior to the actual passing.

      I remember how he was. An ardent closet anti-vietnam liberal, a reader, a sleeper.

      the last years, he never talked politics, watched OReilly, subscribed to the New Yorker 5 or 6 times, and ate very little.
      This was not my father.

      While so many lobbied for the belongings, all i wanted was his hamilton watch, his 4 leaf clover tie clip, and some cash.

      He's in a better place. You owe it to yourself to be in a better place. Regrets? By all means. But you pray for forgiveness, and you go to the grave to explain, and apologize.

      I didn't have much of a Christmas either- for 2 reasons:
      I don't do holidays well, never have. And the shooting of all those children damn near killed me. Yea, I felt it deeply.

      Be okay.. please.

      •  Please do not give me the "better place" line. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mikidee, worldlotus, churchylafemme

        My father is dead. I'm an atheist, and I do not believe in an afterlife. Dead is not a better place.

        Sorry. That's one of my hot buttons.

        That said, I understand what you're saying, but I have no regrets about his death. I don't need forgiveness for anything. I just need him to not be dead, and that's not possible, so I don't see any way to resolve that. I just have to live with it.

        "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." - Hubert Humphrey

        by Killer of Sacred Cows on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 11:58:06 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I have clinical depression (4+ / 0-)

      and none of the treatments seem to work for me in any meaningful way. I also tend to take loss very hard and it takes me a long time to recover from it. (It doesn't help that I also beat myself up for not being over it already - which is why I responded with hostility to the suggestion in a couple of the comments here; I KNOW I should be over it already, but I also know that I'm not really capable of letting go that fast.)

      "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." - Hubert Humphrey

      by Killer of Sacred Cows on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 11:56:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Killer of Sacred Cows, take kind & tender care of (3+ / 0-)


        You were given a lifetime heart gift by a father that is sacred to you.

         Please, please, do not continue to beat yourself up about "not being over it".

         I personally do not subscribe to some "mandatory" time limit to grieve.  And I am not sure that there actually is one-how could there ever possibly be?

        From my heart to yours, gratitude for sharing your heart gift.  By doing so, you may have given much needed & varied "gifts" to countless hearts...

        And from my heart to yours, may you encounter peace & unexpected joys as you travel the oft times lonely path of personal grief.

  •  It was a joy to read about your father's (5+ / 0-)

    wholehearted love of Christmas. I'm tempted to keep this diary to give me ideas for some things to incorporate into future Christmas celebrations, though I would never have the time or energy to do anywhere near all the things he did.

    I can imagine that without him, it feels as if Christmas is simply gone. I hope that someday, maybe little by little, you'll find ways to pick up some of the threads of these family traditions again -- not trying to replace your father but taking some of these memories as your 'inheritance' and deciding which aspects you can carry forward into the future, maybe in different forms. But I can easily imagine that for now, when it's only been a few Christmases that he's been gone, Christmas still feels like a big gaping hole.

    Please visit:

    by Noisy Democrat on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 12:01:56 PM PST

  •  I feel much the same about Thanksgiving (2+ / 0-)

    after my mom died, I avoided the holiday like the plague (partially because it was her favorite and partially because that was when she died- in the hospital bed in the middle of the family room).  

    Love's family is the reason why I do anything for Thanksgiving now.  I won't say that it has gotten easier with time, but I do feel like I am honoring her when I make her favorite dish or share a story about how she made Thanksgiving so special.

    I hope that in time you will find the same peace with Christmas.

    We all have the same ideals ... the same goals. It's our road maps that differ.

    by KentuckyKat on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 04:35:23 PM PST

  •  I think you are missing an opportunity (0+ / 0-)

    Few people have had anyone like your dad.  So, why don't you notice the vacancy and realize that you can start by doing what you can to fill it.

    It sounds like he filled it for more than just you.  And I think he was both culturally interesting and practical.  His asking guests to bring certain music that would be uplifting and inspiring; and yet he did not want to work himself to death cooking or preparing food.  Hence the practical potluck.

    Grieve, but you have done a wonderful job of remembering and talking about your memories.  It would be an enormous loss if you simply hunkered down.  You don't sound like a hunker-downer.  You sound like someone who received the gift of your father, and ought to pass what you liked best about it to others--and especially in your own way.

    It is hard to live those we can barely imagine doing without, but I think it will be easier than you think to spread the joy
    you got from him.  It's inside you, along with the sorrow.

  •  Oh, luv (2+ / 0-)

    I have nothing to say except, pretend I'm there giving you a quick, tight hug.

    I've loved Christmas and I've hated it; I've had wonderful times and I've had times when I stressed out like your mother over all the demands.  But it's always been pretty much my own doing, except for a couple of times when my father took me over a bad personal hump with his merriment.  I can't give you advice.  I never had a really close family, and Christmas after my parents divorced when I was nine tended to be a nexus of disappointments mixed with family feuding.  All I can say is, even with our losses (and I do miss my father and my blood-brothers this season), there is still love in this world.  Try not to forget that.


  •  Killer of Sacred Cows, it's been 12 years for me. (3+ / 0-)

    My mom was the centerpiece of our family Christmases and nothing has been the same since she died of cancer, at age 55, 12 years ago.

    You are grieving, and (as has been said) grieving has no timetable. There's nothing convenient about it.  It's not linear and it's not rational.  It dips and swoops, gets better, gets worse, barely makes a peep some days and completely takes over others.

    I'm sorry for your loss. It's huge and life-altering.  I've likened my mother's death to feeling as though somebody changed my DNA.  It took me a while to recognize myself or my life after she was gone -- and sometimes I still can't.

    Thank you for bearing witness to your great happiness and great sadness about this holiday. {{{{{{{{{{Hugs to you, KoSC}}}}}}}}}}

    Yes, we need to talk about this. Please sign the dKos Petition to start a national conversation about gun control.

    by GreenMtnState on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 07:39:39 PM PST

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