Monday, November 23, 2015

'Tis the Season

I know the last post I wrote (a month ago) I said I was going to write about our wedding day.  And I will.  But that's not what I'm going to write about in this post.

And it's not all doom and gloom.  But there's some gloom.  I don't know why I haven't written lately.  It's starting to get jumbled in my mind...the things I've written and the things I want to write.  Sometimes I'll catch myself writing things in my head and think..."I should write this"...and later it's hazy to me whether I wrote it, or just thought it. 

Anyway, there's been so much already written (by me) about grieving and processing and life without Leslie that I don't want to play like a broken record.  But this is it.  This is THE time of year I've been dreading.  The holidays are upon us.

First...Status Report:  We're doing well.  I'm looking at private placement for Lily next year (she graduates to fourth grade and will have to transition out of her current school situation anyway).  She remains more or less unchanged by all this still.

Emma just finished a play at school.  She played Juliet in "Romeo to Go".  It was fun to watch.  Funny.  These 'drama kids' have become her clan and support network.  She's doing well in school.  Sad at times, but overall seems okay.  She and I have been going to the "Caring Place" since late September.  They have ten sessions of "group support" spaced every other week.  We're going again tonight.  Halfway through.

I am doing well too.  I consider, as I always have, nearly every day a good day, though many days have sadness in them, there is more joy than pain.  I'm slowly...very slowly...getting the house back into shape.  Clearing out messes in Leslie's (now Emma's) office, and the dining room, collecting old computer equipment to put out for the garbage, cleaning the basement "weight room/dobby's room" and steam cleaning the carpets (fucking cat).  I get lonely at times, but I've been reaching out to friends more than I ever did before.  And I've been trying to go out eat or to see a band (next week)...just getting some adult time. 

There is this feeling of...being on hold.  Like somehow grief and grieving needs to run its course before I can continue to live my life.  It still seems like most of what I'm doing in some way is based on a reaction to Leslie's passing...and not necessarily on my life.  I have to really think about that.  On the one hand it feels right.  I still have a lot to process and work out before I'm just me.  Before I'm just living my life and not reacting to Leslie's death.  On the other hand it feels wrong.  Thoughts and feelings about and for Leslie will never NOT be a part of my life (though I'm sure they'll change and develop), so I need to just accept that as part of "me" and move forward with it.  Like I said, I don't know.

In the meantime, I'm doing little things for me.  Things that aren't separating me from Leslie, but that somehow draw a distinction.  Leslie liked my hair shorter, and certainly my beard MUCH shorter.  She would never have said no to anything I really wanted to do, but I liked keeping my hair and beard the way she liked it.  So I'm trying something a bit new with both.  I started using Trunk Club for clothes to just update my wardrobe a bit.  It's probably not going to last super long...because it appears to be expensive as fuck, but it helps me with ideas, and if I pick up a few high quality basics and build on it with other stuff, then it's worth it.  I haven't spent money on clothes (that weren't on my birthday or Christmas) in ...decades.  Seriously I was going through my closet and could pick out clothes that I knew I'd bought 15 years ago.  These little selfishnesses seem minor enough that they don't hurt to contemplate or implement.

I find I'm talking to Leslie less.  This hurts.  I compartmentalize a lot, and maybe that's part of it.  But sometimes I forget about the little butterfly monument and makeshift shrine/time capsule that the kids and I planted under the corkscrew willow.  The beauty of recognizing a thing you're doing (or not doing) and being hurt by you can change it.  

Anyway...back to our story...

First, I want to say that I love the holidays.  Well...not Thanksgiving.  Fuck thanksgiving.  So many reasons that Thanksgiving irritates me, but I looooooooove Christmas.  And loving Christmas is unchanged without Leslie, though certainly her absence is a shitty contrast to "joy to the world".

So I had been thinking about Christmas...really I've been thinking about it since Leslie died.  There are so many things that I "thought ahead to"...things like Mother's Day and her Birthday and ...Christmas, happy/fun events where her absence will make them less happy/fun and more bittersweet.  And Christmas is sort of the grandaddy of them all.

Thinking about Christmas, I started planning for Christmas.  And the first pragmatic conclusion I reached was that unlike Christmases past...I wouldn't have that extra set of adult hands needed to either:  help decorate, help direct, organize tasks, or wrangle Lily.  So I decided to start decorating a week earlier than we used to.  Adapted tradition.  Every year we tried to decorate the day after Thanksgiving.  This year, Halloween damn near didn't go up (decorated the day before).  Christmas is just too special to our family for me to let that happen.  So I started dragging out the decorations yesterday.

Emma, noticing I was really beat the night before, tucked me into bed at about 10:15 that night.  The result was that I woke with a ton of energy and was able to get laundry and decorating started.

My folks offered to watch Lily and then have us over for dinner last night, but then switched gears when it became apparent that I was stressing out over being able to get as much done at home as I wanted if we went to dinner and just took Lily for a play date instead.

And I thought...okay...this is going to be okay.  And my sister took Emma to church so I started lugging all the decorations out from the basement behind the stairs to surprise her when she got home.

Having carted the Christmas tree box upstairs, I started moving the furniture to accommodate the tree.  The love seat is really heavy, but also sort of...flimsy?  The furniture twists a bit when you try to move it.  I think it's the result of having the ability to recline.  But it's shitty to move.  And I literally was thinking...I wish I had you here to help me, Leslie.  Like that was in my head.  You should be here helping me now.  And I budged the loveseat with my shoulder and it slid a bit against the carpet and uncovered a bunch of m&m's and some popcorn and paperclips...and...this picture:

And if you've read past posts you know that Leslie's friend Jen is a bit of a butterfly fanatic when it comes to lost loved ones, and I find myself much more conscious of it myself as a result.  To the point where it's become an important symbol of Leslie...and transformation...and ascendance of the soul, and of her watching us and helping us.  And so this stupid card that the school sent home with Lily one year to help her work on vocabulary (we told them she loves flipping through the pictures and labeling them, and we work with her on describing them) is revealed beneath the loveseat as I shoved it aside, my thoughts on Leslie and her help...and I kinda fucking lost it.  A little.  In my fashion.  I sort of gave that half sob sound thing and my eyes welled up and I held the picture in my hands and rubbed the wing with my thumb and felt a little sorry for myself before I smiled, chuckled a bit and thought..."yeah, I know you're here to help me when I need you, baby...but I meant lifting the couch, not emotionally, ass."  Leslie would have laughed at that too. 

So I think I was probably already a little emotional when I opened the storage bin of stocking holders and stockings.  There, put away inside the box in which we first bought it, sandwiched between foam, was the jeweled Christmas tree with "Leslie" engraved underneath for hanging her stocking.  Digging further, the faux fur stocking she had glitter-written "Leslie" across.  What the fuck was I going to do with that?  Even my stocking had her mark on it.  When we'd first started dating we bought matching stockings and wrote our names on them.  Mine came out horribly.  Looked like a 5 year-old had done it.  We kept them like that for years, maybe even until Lily was born, and when we couldn't find a fourth stocking that matched the other last we bought all new stockings and I made her write my name so it would come out legibly. 

The gut punch of the stockings came as these things always seem to:  unexpectedly.  I really SHOULD have known this was going to prove harder than it started emotionally, and maybe that's why the butterfly 'proactively' flapped its colorful wings in my strong, be ready, I'm here to help.  If you believe in that sort of thing...

I wasn't really sure what to do with them.  Throw them away?  I had no sooner thought of it than I had discarded it.  Put them up?  That seemed somehow worse.  In the end I waited for Emma to come home and talked to her.  I nudged her in the direction of "storing them for next year."  Sort of a planned familial compartmentalization until we were better equipped to deal with it.

In the end we finished perhaps 90% of the decorating before Lily got home.  Some things I just don't know how to do.  I don't remember how Leslie decorated the light over the kitchen table or the fixtures above the island...or the dining room in general.  I have boxes of decorations, but it's like looking at a jigsaw puzzle with no picture.  Except that I DO have pictures, I'm almost sure, and I need to go back through old pictures and see if I can piece it together. 

I had to push Emma to help more than in the past.  I don't blame her.  She's usually pretty eager to decorate the trees, but if she was somewhat less eager this year, I can't really fault her.

We're going to be fine.  Christmas will still be great.  But it will be great without Leslie, and so that will make it less great than it could have been.  But we'll manage, together.


  1. Finding the butterfly was so perfect, Jim. I might have teared up a little reading it

  2. It's a lovely tree. Of course, as always, a lovely story albeit somewhat sad. However, I think like you I am beginning to grow as I read these things and do not so much crying but more reflecting. It'll be alright. Your stories will be occasionally sad/remembering ones but leaning more towards uplifting "I learned something new". Even though I don't know you and your family in real life, this feels real enough as I have gotten to know you through your stories. I know the right word for what you are doing isn't "courage" but surviving doesn't feel right either. Whatever-you are doing something and you need to keep doing it whatever you call it. You make me feel like decorating my home now where lately I've been feeling blah because of one thing or another. Enjoy your holidays to the best of your ability and know that you are touching the lives of others by simply doing what you do.

  3. well kudos to you jim- one step at a time - appears you have done a fine job so far. nothing says all has to be im 1 day. and all in all you had help in many differnt fashions. hugs

  4. We have a friend who is like a brother to me. His sister and I have been best friends since we were 12, we are now 40. He is a part of almost every teenaged memory I have. He is dying. He is only 42, has a young wife and a little boy, and I think of you often when I wonder, what will they all do when he is gone? This tells me it will be okay. As he is going into hospice on the exact date that I lost my Dad 5 years ago, I read this and instead of melting into the sad place I was headed, I think instead, we will put up the tree. Thank you, Jim. Keep doing what you are doing, for yourself and your ladies.

  5. Thanks for sharing Jim, and I look forward to continuing to read your blog. Enjoy the memories, even as painful as they are.

  6. Such courage in the face of sadness. Believe me...I'm there, too. Lost my son four yrs ago Thanksgiving weekend. Holidays are still tough. Blessings on you all.


  7. I think I need one of those uncomfortable hugs of yours Jimmy

    1. Rib crushers. All the love squeezes out the oxygen.

  8. Sending love. You're a good dad, Jim.

  9. You're doing everything right in the most wrong situation imaginable. My heart is with you and the girls this Christmas.