Where’s the remote control to fast forward through the next couple of months? This is our year of firsts—facing events, special days, and holidays without Jeanette for the first time. The two biggest holidays of the year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, are packaged with so much celebration and traditions, it’s impossible to avoid. It’s a two-month stretch I’ve labeled “running the gauntlet.”
I started thinking and planning ahead for the next two months all the way back in June out of sheer dread. Everything in me has been shouting, “I MUST HAVE A PLAN! HOW WILL I EVER GET THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS WITHOUT A PLAN?” Problem is, no one else is thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas during the lemonade and sun-tanning days of summer. But, no one else is feeling the panic swirling around inside me screaming for a survival plan!
As an army family throughout Jeanette’s childhood, we always lived far from family, so our holiday traditions developed as something uniquely us. More than any other time of year, November and December were all about the decorations, and lights, and candles, and special foods, and music, and movies we watched every single year. These traditions defined our holidays and gave us our sense of family. And, Jeanette, being an only child and the center of it all, was the plaster-and-mortar for every tradition, as a child and as an adult. So the big question is, WHAT WILL WE DO NOW?
There’s no way I’ll be fixing a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings for just Dennis and me on Thanksgiving. I know we’d be welcome guests at practically any of our friends’ home for Thanksgiving dinner. But, it wouldn’t be the same. Nothing and no one could ever make it the same.
By the middle of September I knew I’d have to start thinking outside the box for something radically different, and yet something meaningful and special. With the help of some online searches, I found the perfect answer. Living in Arizona, we've decided the perfect thing would be a trip to the Grand Canyon. But, not just any Grand Canyon trip. Our reservations are made for the Grand Canyon Railway, a round-trip train ride from Williams, AZ, to the Canyon. It's something we've talked about before, but have never done. It's a splurge for us, and not something we'll likely do every year, but this year, we need it. The anticipation is just enough to take the edge off the anxiety of our first Thanksgiving without Jeanette.
With Thanksgiving plans in place, I turned my attention to Christmas and the task of sorting through boxes and boxes of ornaments and decorations accumulated by us and Jeanette. I thought I'd sell or donate much of it, but as I unpacked her snowman collection, her miniature Christmas tree collection, her angel collection, and more, I just couldn't part with it. I don’t care if it does take up space to store it all, I’m keeping it, at least, for now.
Waist-deep in Christmas boxes, I came across decorations she made in school and Girl Scouts, ornaments we’ve been hanging on our tree all these years, and stockings decorated with our names in glitter. A flood of tears came, and I tenderly packed those special decorations away for now. Maybe another year.
One of the biggest questions is whether or not we’ll put up a Christmas tree. To use her pretty ornament collections, I guess we'll need a tree to hang them on. So, will we use our tree, her tree, buy a new tree, or maybe get a real tree for a change? In Arizona, we’ve rarely troubled ourselves with the dry, needle-dropping messiness of a real tree. I think we'll get a new tree, a different shape and size, and start fresh.
Making new memories is our plan for holiday survival. Holidays will never be the same, and that’s a fact. But, as I’ve sifted through Christmas boxes, I’ve realized the key is to figure out which memories to salvage and incorporate into a new set of traditions and memories.
There’s no fast forward to move past the holidays; we can only move through them. At every turn in our grief journey, I want us to be more than just survivors. Holidays are a biggie, but we will find a way to survive and thrive! We will honor Jeanette with thankful hearts at Thanksgiving and celebrate Christmas with the joy she’d want for us. If the tears come, let them, but we’ll find the hidden smiles too.
Sara Faith Nelson
Sharing the journey, because, I find there are so many others making the trek through life without a loved one