The last time my mother and I stood near a Christmas tree together was December 2012. She was in the middle of a long battle with Chronic Lyme Disease and we had recently found out that she also had Alzheimer's. This dynamic cocktail of ailments left her unable to function as she used to -- as an entertainer, caregiver, and a joker.
My mother and I were very close, and when she began showing signs of her disease I became extremely protective of her. A little more than 10 years prior my mother was very protective of me as I successfully battled Stage 3 Hodgkin's Disease -- cancer. This created a unique bond that seems to have literally given me the ability to feel her pain, shame and exhaustion.
The Christmas season is my favorite time of year. Mainly because of all the amazing memories I have from my childhood. It's not the gifts I remember as much as Christmas Eve night when my brothers and I would pile into the same bed as Tom (one of my three older brothers) would read us the story of Jesus' birth. Upstairs we could hear the distant chimes of Christmas music, laughing and my mother and my Nana wrapping gifts on the dining room table.
My Nana lived next door but tradition had it so she slept at our house on Christmas Eve night so that there was no delay when it came to tearing into the gifts that lay under the tree. My mom and dad would watch us boys opening presents and periodically they would open one of their own. There would be much laughter, music and fun. All this positive energy beaming from the woman who filled our home with decorations, treats and love. Quite frankly, my mother's presence seemed to fill our home with the Christmas spirit.
The past two Christmases, however, my mother and her spirit of positivity and fun have been absent. The once decorated home where my mother and father lived now stands undecorated with four empty bedrooms, no Christmas lights or tree and my broken-hearted father who visits with his soul mate every single night. If ever there were a Nutcracker Prince my father is he, and Alzheimer's is that pesky rat trying to steal away the light from every Christmas candle. Trying to describe the pain he must feel is impossible. Describing my own seems doable.
The pain of losing someone to Alzheimer's is not found when they eventually pass, it is found in the many, many, goodbyes you say each time you leave their side. The walk back to the car is maddening as you think about how unfair the disease is, how hopeless the moment seems and the ever present question, am I doing enough?
Christmas 2015 has been a little bit easier for me than the past two holiday seasons. In fact I have noticed moments when I am joyful at the beautiful sites and sounds of the season and in the back of brain lingers a thought, "You should feel sad."
This thought creeps into my mind when I smile as I walk through the hoards of people finishing up there shopping at the Mall. It even tries to shout at me when I am wrapping presents. This feeling of required sadness during this time of year is something I have never experienced before. For the past two years sadness wasn't required of me, it was just present. This year it is not so present, but clearly it wants to be recognized.
Dealing with grief during the "most wonderful time of the year" is really hard. I've found no secret strategy that allows me to circumvent my relationship with sadness. I have also found no cure for this feeling of guilt each time I'm enjoying a moment away from my wilting mother.
What I have found is that deep within each of us is the spirit of the person we miss most and the best way to honor that person is to celebrate the light that they once shined on each of us.
Christmas is not just a time for ripping open presents, programming new tech toys, and eating our daily caloric intake with just one slice of cake -- it is also a time to recognize our feelings, remember our loved ones, and bask in the glory of being alive. For it is within that glory that we can find the energy and compassion to share a small piece of our hearts with others, and by doing so, we may just mend our own.
David A. Pride
David Pride is a Professional Speaker and Social Media Strategist. Learn more at socialimpressions.net
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at email@example.com.