Last year, we canceled Christmas in our house. M had spent a good portion of the year traveling to Maryland as his father declined. He died in early December, and by that time we were both exhausted. After M got back from the funeral, we just didn't have the energy to do anything for Christmas.
We just wanted to climb into a hole and ignore the universe. Instead, we cancelled Christmas.
Cancelling Christmas was kind of awesome. We stopped doing anything beyond what we had already done. The only decorations that went out were our stockings, because I had already pulled them out. No tree, no lights, no presents for anyone, no cookies, nothing. The only thing we gave each other was the one gift we had already purchased (we'd each gotten each other one gift before we cancelled Christmas), given to each other at midnight on Christmas morning. And he came to work with me, and we did the first annual St. Mary's Christmas Day brunch, and we went home and I spent the afternoon reading my new Kindle while he watched non-Christmas TV.
It was nice to have the grounding of something to do, like make brunch at church, even though I was so wiped that all I wanted to do was skip everything. Seriously, if I weren't the priest, I might have even skipped services.
Here's the secret. If you are wiped out at Christmas because of death, it is totally ok to skip everything, up to and including Christmas itself.
Unless you are the priest. Then put on your big girl pants and show up for services. It'll be ok. There are other ways that priests can skip Christmas.
A number of worship places offer a service around this time of the year that they call "Blue Christmas" or "Longest Night" services. They recognize that not everyone has a wonderful, happy joy-filled Christmas. Hartford Hospital and LifeChoice used to do their Organ Donor Family memorial service around this time of year, and would give out this wonderful pass. It was an all-purpose, get-out-of-anything pass that said something like, "Thank you for inviting me out. Please understand that I appreciate your care and love. I am not able to participate in this activity this year. I hope you'll invite me again in the future" and on the back, "The Mourner's Pass". I don't have the wording down verbatim, but it was genius.
In COPS, we used to tell surviving families that it was ok to skip Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes, families would share how they would leave town and go on a cruise over Christmas rather than participate in all the rituals without their loved one.
In our case, we had known my father-in-law was going to die for a very long time. When he finally died, I don't think M felt traditional grief so much as a sense of relief that it was finally, finally over. He was just exhausted. It's a different sort of grief. Losing a parent takes adjustment, even when you expect it.
Taking Christmas off was the best thing we did. I hope my family understands why we just holed up and left humanity behind. I don't even remember if we sent the kids gifts, and quite frankly, last year, I just didn't have the energy to care. It's kind of amazing to me, now, to remember last year and how absolutely dead-tired inside I felt. I literally had no energy for Christmas at all. On the few hours during the month that I mustered up energy to feel Christmassy, I remember feeling kind of pissed off at the bad timing of everything.
I sure hope I managed to mask the pissed-off part of things.
But this year... now this year, we have energy again. It does not feel completely exhausting to think about presents. Sure, we are separated by distance while M does more education, but we have plane tickets in hand for him to come home. We have plans for what to send the nieces and nephews. It doesn't feel like a black cloud of exhaustion and endings hanging over us this year.
So this year, even though it's just me in the house right now, I have hung up the Christmas lights on our back deck. M loves these multicolored LED lights. Those suckers are INTENSE. They are tiny, heat-free, and super, super bright. Personally, I'm a white-lights-in-the-house kind of person, but you compromise in a marriage, dammit. And this year, my tasteful white twinkle icicle lights finally died, so I had no choice but to put the multicolored LEDs outside.
And now, you can see my house from space. You're welcome, astronauts.