How I remember my loved ones lost on vacation

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courtesy of the Rouse family

The Christmas tree was staring at me. In its reflection, I saw a jagged prism, a broken person. It was the first vacation after my stepfather died from Covid, and I had reluctantly gone to rummage through the red and green storage containers that held my family’s beloved holiday decorations.

I came as a test: yes or no to celebrate Christmas this year.

There, above a red bin, was the mattress topper my mother had helped me make decades earlier. I sat down on the floor and took it in my hands. It was not a typical treetop, a flickering angel or a shining star. No, our family heirloom was the Frankenstein of ornaments, made of pieces of broken glass and dreams.

A Christmas marred by loss

My brother, Todd, died in a tragic accident when he was only 17 and I was 13. It crushed our family. The first Christmas we tried to celebrate without him was a constant reminder that he was gone: a hole his presents should have been under the tree, man-made too, because Todd loved nothing more than chopping down a pine tree. of our woods every year. ; an empty chair at the dining room table; a surreal calm that accompanied every attempt at joy. And, to top it off, the tree fell and my mother’s beloved heirloom ornaments were broken. She unleashed a life of sorrow in a bloodcurdling moan. I grabbed a bucket and a broom, just wanting to sweep it all up.

This is what I felt after the death of my grandmother years later and my mother in 2009. This is how I felt last year, after the loss of my stepfather , George. Like so many others, I was isolated, lost and in mourning.

Make room for mourning during the holidays

In the midst of all the holiday cheer, there is seldom room for grief. But the past two years have magnified the loneliness of too many Americans. We have lost over 800,000 parents, grandparents, siblings and friends to Covid, and too often we forget that it’s not just numbers, it’s names, like George. There will be too many empty chairs at the table, and too many empty holes under the tree and in our hearts. And those of us who suffer too often try to hide from the holidays, praying that they pass as fast as Santa’s sleigh.

As I examined my holiday bins, the top of the tree glistened in my hands, evoking memories of those who were no longer with me. My brother used to dip his pine in garlands, the branches buried in silver. I loved to sit in front of the tree, mesmerized, as the lights shone on the garlands. My mother could always find the perfect spot for the endless heirloom adornments passed down to her, pointing to an open hole that I had somehow missed. My grandmother taught me to decorate cookies – topped with icing as thick as snow – that looked like Rudolph. And on my first Christmas with George, I had to make a stocking with my name on it to become an “official member” of the family.

“Don’t skimp on the glitter,” George told me as I wrote my name in glue, “otherwise they will wear off over time.”

I held the Frankenstein topper up to my face.

Embrace the memories instead

The following year, after my brother died and the tree fell, I expected Christmas to come and go as quietly as a church mouse. I walked into the living room one December evening to find my mother planting a tree that she had cut herself, boxes of ornaments strewn across the shag rug. In a box were the fragments of broken ornaments from the previous Christmas. My mom, a hospice nurse, patted the rug and I sat down.

how i remember loved ones lost on vacations
The author’s parents disguised as Santa Claus and Santa Claus

courtesy of the Rouse family

“Think how much your brother enjoyed this vacation,” she whispered to me, tears in her eyes. “Why are we all trying so hard to forget about him? We shouldn’t just throw away our memories. We should start treating Todd like he’s still here. Because he is. is. And always will be. Then we put all those broken pieces back together and made something beautiful out of them.

Remembering loved ones lost

Some 40 years after the senseless death of my brother, and less than a year after that of my stepfather, I have remembered it all. I took boxes of decorations to my living room. I hung my stocking, decorated cookies, erected a tree, covered it with garlands, and topped it with an ornament that represents our collective losses, memories, shattered dreams, prayers, hopes and our holiday spirit.

Graydon House

The secret of snow: a novel

And I wasn’t so alone anymore. I could feel my family surrounding me. This holiday season, reach out to those in need of a hug. Tell them you have something to do with it. Let them know that the names of everything we’ve lost and love still shine as bright as glitter, and their memories will never fade until we refuse to let them.

Wade Rouse’s new book (written under his pseudonym, Viola Shipman) A snow secret is available now from your favorite bookseller. This essay is part of a series highlighting the Good Housekeeping Book Club – you can join the conversation and check out more of our favorite book recommendations.

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