Tuesday, December 27, 2005

All my family are going to be strangers

I'm sure Christmas was going to be bittersweet this year, no matter what we did. Even toward the end of the summer, when I was working through the brunt of my grief, I dreaded the coming of the holidays. Part of me wanted to sequester myself out in the wilds of Montana. Or leave the country. Of course, that wouldn't have made a difference.

This time of year meant a lot to my father. Knowing how important it was to him, I often felt guilty over not really acknowledging the religious aspect of Christmas - especially as I got older. I know it disappointed him. But we reached an understanding, and I think that played a large role in us growing closer as father and son.

However, I'll always feel like we should've talked about it more. And that's one of many regrets I'm still carrying with me.

As I think about the Christmas holiday which just passed, the words "self-fulfilling prophecy" keep swirling around in my head. I felt it was going to miserable, therefore it would be miserable.

Actually, it wasn't that bad. The morning I spent with my mother and sister was extremely meaningful - and not just because they gave me an iPod as a gift. Being together helped us deal with our sense of loss, the feeling of emptiness in the house.

It was later in the day - at my aunt's house, with my dad's family - when I truly began to feel sad. I wish just one person in that house would've asked my mother how she was doing. It would've been nice for someone, other than me and my sister, to acknowledge that this was her first Christmas in 36 years without her husband.

Maybe no one knew what to say. I realize they were probably dealing with their own feelings, and doing what they felt necessary to get through the day. And I know my mother isn't easy to deal with in such situations. She can be curt, and even outright rude, preferring to wall herself off, rather than address her feelings. Relationships with my dad's family have become strained because of that. So maybe it's hypocritical of me to ask for anyone to reach out to her when she hasn't really been reaching out to them. They lost a brother, too.

But someone could have tried. I'm not talking about another wake, or some shrine in the corner, devoted to my father. No one would've wanted that. But I don't think the other extreme is necessary, either. Unfortunately, denial has been a popular method of coping in the past. Keep things locked away in closets, underneath clutter and dust. Get his or her stuff out of the house, as soon as possible. Just talk about something else.

Moving on is important. I know that. My mother knows that. And to think that she hasn't "moved on," to shoot her a disparaging look that might as well say, "C'mon, it's been seven months now - get over it," makes me question how well some of the people in that house truly know her. I'm not sure how well I know any of them anymore, either.

That's why I felt so sad - and quite frankly, angry - while driving home Christmas night. People who I used to feel close to, whose company I loved and enjoyed, now feel more like strangers. And I'm probably a stranger to them, too.

I hope that feeling eventually passes. There's a chance that it could. Maybe feelings are still too raw. Wounds are still closing and healing. And some will work to strengthen bonds that seem weak, to maintain a sense of family that feels so strained right now. I probably need to work harder on such things myself.

That's what my father would expect of me. But I know he knows I can't do it alone, either.