I lost my brother when he was 13 and I was 16. I’m now 29. I still feel the pain of missing him around the holidays. I lost my mother when I was 25. The last place we visited together was her hometown in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I’ve only been back twice – once the year after which was painfully awkward, and once for a funeral. It’s hard to go back because memories I haven’t had to face on a regular basis come back in an overwhelming wave in that town. Everything reminds me of my mother in a way I haven’t thought of regularly.
I drive by the house we lived in there and think about her baking cookies with me in the kitchen. We pass the School for the Blind and I remember her telling me one of those stories she repeated once or twice a year through my whole childhood about the time she went on a “blind date” with an actually blind guy. I sit to play dominos with my great grandmother and know who the missing player is…
I don’t constantly sit at my dinner table with my two kids, husband and father and think of missing my mother, or my brother. But when I go back to places I haven’t been in awhile, places they often were, it’s hard.
Earlier this week my dad asked me if we could make a somewhat impromptu trip to New Mexico, my mother’s homeland, and spend Christmas with the family. He said everyone was getting together because they wanted to make the most of grandmother Grace’s 95th Christmas because … you know…
My immediate family (me, my husband and two children) already has two family Christmases planned. We are visiting my dad’s side from the 18th-20th and my husband’s side from at least the 24th-26th. We also have a 6 week old child who might not be fun to travel with on a 14 hour trip to New Mexico. I debated going; I wanted to really – I haven’t seen the whole family together since… well, my uncle’s funeral. And before that it was… it wasn’t my mother’s funeral because everyone had come up the week before, when mom was on her deathbed waiting for official permission to remove the life support. I know seeing the whole family together would have triggers – for both the memory of my mother and my brother.
We had already planned to head to New Mexico over summer. I want the family to be able to meet my new daughter in person, but I’m not ready to have three family Christmases and travel over 30 hours in the two week Christmas break teachers get. I mean, I might have been willing if I didn’t have an infant, but that pushes it over the top ,doesn’t it? It’s my excuse anyway.
We aren’t going to head to New Mexico for Christmas and my heart wishes we could be there, but my brain – my brain is relieved that I don’t have to relive. It isn’t easy. Christmas is a joyful time, and it’s awkward to hide tears while children unwrap gifts. The holidays are hard.
It’s easier with my husband’s family. They never got to meet my brother; I met them too late in life. They knew my mom, but my mom never went to my sister-in-law’s new houses. I’ve spent more days without my mother than with my mother in the house my in-laws live in. I still remember the first time I went to my great-grandmother’s house without my mom… It’s different.
So while I do feel guilty that my mother’s family will have to wait to meet my newborn until after the Christmas season, I’m not going to feel to guilty about not going down there. I can rationalize it and say it’s about the miles or the newborn or the costs, but something inside of me knows part of it is about the memories. I’ll enjoy Christmas, and hopefully head back to work rejuvenated and ready (which isn’t easy with an infant in the house). I love my mother’s family, and I do want to see them, but I hope they can understand that it’s hard. Yes, it’s hard with the distance and cost and the infant, but it’s hard to on short term planning because of the time to mentally prepare, it’s hard because that was my mother’s home, and she can’t come back to that home.
So, if you too have lost someone, and that’s common in the muscular dystrophy community, I understand if you think the holidays are hard. Mine are too. I’ll pray for you and me both.
Some resources for getting through the holidays: