Christmas in Connecticut

(Throw back photo of the Christmas we spent in the ICU–surprisingly one of the kids favorite memories of all time)

I just finished writing a blog about how grateful I was for the gift of laughter this Christmas. I had a few good days and started thinking that maybe the 4th Christmas without Naomi was going to be a little less dreadful than the first ones, and I got comfortable with that thought.

I had the flu when I was 16; I have never been so sick in my whole life. For almost a full week I was in bed barely able to lift my head; so when my friends asked me if I wanted to go to a basketball game with them the day after my fever broke I was itching to go. I thought I felt better, but suffice it to say I wasn’t ready. I was so tired of feeling miserable that I pushed my body to do something it wasn’t ready to and ended up making myself feel worse. I got home from the game and climbed back in bed completely set back and frustrated.

Christmas eve I was ahead of schedule. I’m usually running around doing last minute shopping and wrapping, or baking just one more thing—so when I had the extra time on my hands I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I could feel myself getting desperate to get out, so Mary and I decided to go grab a cup of coffee. As we pulled into the parking lot the song “I’ll be home for Christmas” came on the radio. I felt a lump form in my throat, so I quickly turned off the radio and shook it off. Mary noticed my mood shift and thoughtfully said: “ya know what? Let’s go get our nails done; that will make you feel better”. I perked up; I had been asking her to go with me for the past few hours, but she didn’t want to. She was tossing me a bone, but I wasn’t too proud to accept it!

When we walked into the nail salon there was no one else there. The 2 ladies who worked there hopped up and told us to pick a color. They sat us next to each other and started to work on our nails. Mary was right, this was good. A few minutes later I heard the salon door open and a very well dressed woman walked in with her daughter and announced that she was there for a manicure. The woman was obviously wealthy; her appearance was impressive and she carried herself with excessive confidence. The lady working on my nails initially looked torn, but quickly made her decision; she stood up and told me that someone else would be along shortly to finish my nails but she was going to take care of this customer instead. I was shocked; not just that the employee was choosing to walk away from me, but that the lady who walked in was actually going to let this happen. She shrugged off her expensive coat without hesitation, took her large sparkling rings off without so much as glancing over at me and handed over her nails to be polished. I looked at Mary with my mouth hanging open; I was mad and not about to keep it a secret, but my daughter looked back at me pleading with her eyes not to make a scene. I felt small, insignificant, and suddenly very ashamed of my appearance. Up until that point I was comfortable in my baggy jeans and oversized red sweater. My boots didn’t have too many scuffs and my messy curls were just the look of a lazy Saturday afternoon. Now that I was held up to the woman beside me, I was left lacking and I became aware of my every flaw.

Just like that, my anger turned to sadness. I no longer felt righteous indignation; I felt shame and sorrow. I sat quietly beside Mary as she finished having her nails painted and then quickly stood up to leave. “She must wait to dry her nails” the small lady advised me, “they can dry in the car” I replied while snatching up my and her belongings. We barely made it out of the salon before the tears came. Poor Mary sat next to me as we drove home not sure of how to console me. She wasn’t even sure which part of the day I was crying about, and to be honest, neither did I. The tears started because of the salon experience, but after the first 30 minutes they became about having yet another Christmas without my daughter.
I cried all night, and every time I thought I had pulled myself together, the tears would come again. They were slow and steady. They only came faster when I sat in the church pew and listened to the speaker talk about missing loved ones on this special time of year.
After midnight mass Leon and I drove home in silence. It was cold and rainy and I kept my head pressed against the window; I noticed our street sign as the car drove past it and instantly knew where he was taking me.

As we approached the cemetery I finally stopped fighting it. Once I let it, the anguish bubbled up and out of me like a bottle of soda that had been well shaken before opened. I walked quickly to the stone and stared at the picture of my beautiful little girl; the sadness that I had been trying to outrun for the last 4 weeks finally caught up with me. I choked out a sob and bent in half, holding my stomach. I was standing in the bitter cold on Christmas eve, in front of the headstone of a 9 year old little girl who should be home in her bed dreaming of the fun things she’d find under the Christmas tree in the morning. This felt wrong, so very wrong. I stood up and looked around me at all of the other stones, many with Christmas tree’s and lights glowing in the silent dark expanse of land. How many other people were trying to outrun their pain on this Christmas night?

The next morning I woke up ready to enjoy Christmas with the rest of my family. I was still hurting, but I also felt cleansed. I realized that I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself to be “better”. I loved how it felt to get a taste of normalcy a few weeks ago and I longed for that lightness again, but it was just that, a taste; it wasn’t meant to be every day.

I usually like to wrap up my blogs with some positive spin or reflection on what I’m learning through this journey, but all I can come up with this time is the expression: “It is what it is”. I want something I can’t have, not just my daughter back, but the ease of living that came with having a complete family. I have been told so many times that it will get easier that for a minute I believed it to be true. Truth is, “easier” is not a word that should be used when forecasting what grief will turn into, it’s not a word that should be used in conjunction with the word grief at all. It will be different—mostly cloudy but with a chance of sun. In Connecticut, they say if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.

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