It’s ONLY been six years
Six years. It’s been six years since my husband was killed in a military parachuting accident. He died three days before our wedding anniversary. His body was flown home three days later. Three days after that was his first funeral. Then we celebrated Christmas three days after that. What a nightmare that was, going through the motions of Christmas because my niece was only five and we didn’t want her to be traumatized by learning there was no Santa right after her favorite uncle was killed. There was a second funeral the first week of January at Arlington National Cemetery where he was buried and then his unit held a memorial service later that month. It was a really fucking shitty month. There is no other way to describe it.
In the past six years, I have worked really hard to heal. Part of my healing has been to desperately find a way to enjoy Christmas and not have it completely ruined by its association with death. This took some pretty hefty therapy including EMDR therapy so I could stomach the sight of a Christmas tree without having a panic attack (I was notified of my husband’s death while in the midst of putting up our Christmas tree. I then had to have a friend take the tree down because the thought of touching it made my skin crawl and my chest feel heavy). The first Christmas after his death, I took my son to Disney World and stayed through Christmas. It was a different way to experience the holiday without putting up the décor at home or have the added pressure of family obligations. My son has severe cerebral palsy and does not have the mental capacity to understand his dad’s death so focusing on his happiness in an environment like Disney World was a way for me to still experience the joy of the season. Six years later, we have modified the timing of our Christmas trip (we come home prior to Christmas), but it has still been a very helpful way to cope. My son and I listen to tons of Christmas music and watch all of the Christmas movies over and over. I’ve been able to put a Christmas tree up again the past couple Christmases, too. I also have an amazingly loving, supportive boyfriend now who has helped make the past couple Decembers feel much less icky.
This past Christmas I surprised myself with having a meltdown about my husband on Christmas night that felt as if it came out of nowhere. My boyfriend, my son, and I had been enjoying a wonderfully low-key Christmas. We opened gifts and hung out pretty lazily all day. I had just put on A Christmas Story (one of my faves) and walked out of the room for a second. I came back and my boyfriend was watching HGTV. He’s not the biggest fan of all of the Christmas movies but had been tolerable of us watching them all. His turning the channel triggered something for me. I wasn’t upset at him, though. I just immediately started to feel anxious. Anxiety for me starts as racing thoughts and escalates until I feel like my skin is crawling. I was at that point when my boyfriend confronted me about my behavior and I just lost it. I cried and cried and told him I didn’t feel that this Christmas was what I hoped it to be at all. I told him I wasn’t “finished” with Christmas and him turning the channel from my Christmas movie had been very upsetting. This meltdown sounds completely ridiculous, I know. My poor boyfriend…he thought he had ruined Christmas by wanting to watch HGTV. It wasn’t until I’d had time to calm down and reflect that I could grasp what my meltdown was really about. See, I have put so much effort into saturating my life with holiday cheer in the years after my husband’s death with an excess of music and movies and Disney World and it wasn’t until my boyfriend turned the TV channel on Christmas that I even realized I rely on every single bit of that excess to cope through the Christmas season. I was both excited and embarrassed to tell my boyfriend of my discovery. His response was “Well, it’s ONLY been six years.”
He was right. To me, I was seeing the progress I had made in my life in the past six years and perceiving that I had moved past the point of having meltdowns about my late husband. But that is the funny thing about grief. There is no timetable for it. Whether it has been 6 hours or 6 days or 6 years, you will still feel the effects of your loss. I had just been consumed with trying so hard to not experience any icky feelings that I failed to recognize that they may still be there, laying dormant. I have expressed to my boyfriend that going forward, I absolutely need the saturation of all of the Christmassy things to get myself through. No more turning the channel to HGTV on Christmas. Being the loving man that he is, he said he would happily oblige. And next Christmas I will recognize that it has ONLY been seven years and extend myself some extra grace.
Written by Lisa Keys
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