That Christmas Ache

23 Dec

We’re just about ready for Christmas. I bought far too many gifts for Emily, everything’s wrapped, and the house is overflowing with decorations (including our comically large Christmas tree that Emily INSISTED on this year).

It looks like Christmas. I baked cookies, so it smells like Christmas. It even feels like Christmas with a few inches of snow possibly on the way for tomorrow, but I can’t quite shake the overwhelming emptiness I feel as the holiday approaches. This will be the second Christmas without Ana. How is that possible? She should be here.

She should be here.

She should fucking be here.

A fellow bereaved parent I know – a woman who has become one of my closest friends – is also facing the second Christmas without her son who would’ve been 11 years old yesterday. She captured this feeling perfectly. She said, “It’s getting harder. I want sharp fresh memories.”

What would you do if your memories of your child were finite? If they just…stopped…at a certain age? What should I do? It feels like she’s slipping away, like I’m losing her all over again.

The clearest memory I have of Ana at Christmas is the last year she was alive because, of course it is.

She didn’t feel well. She was extremely thin and pale and exhausted. She forced herself to get out of bed early because Emily was excited. She savored every moment of the day. I think she knew it would be the last Christmas. She didn’t say it out loud, but she had to know. My god, she was brave.

I’ve shared this photo before because, of course I have. I don’t have anymore Christmas morning photos of the girls. I don’t think I took one of Emily last year – opening presents alone. I don’t know if she’ll let me take one of her this year, but I hope so.

The thing is – I can’t trust my memories. They’ve never been good. They seem to fade as quickly as the moment fades. That’s changed a little in the last few years as it became apparent that we likely wouldn’t have much more time with Ana, but it’s still hard to recall anything specific. If it weren’t for photos and recordings, I might start to forget the sound of her voice, or the specific way her mouth turned up when she smiled.

I tell myself that she wouldn’t want me to feel sad and sometimes that helps. I tell myself that I must picture her now in a place I can’t reach, but where she’s happy and not stuck in a dying body and sometimes that helps. I tell myself that I have life left to live and that the best way to honor Ana is to live it fully because she fought so hard for that chance and sometimes that helps. I tell myself that missing her will get easier with time – or it may get easier – or, if not easier, it won’t be as painful because maybe I’ll learn to feel more joy at her memory than longing, and sadness and the agonizing frustration of being cheated, but that never works.

It will never get easier.

I want a different ending. I want more time with her. I want every single detail of every single Christmas we ever spent together to be sharp and fresh. I want more memories. I want the impossible.

She should be here.

I tell myself that it’s not good to travel down the path of longing and wishful thinking. That leads to pain, bitterness, and envy – it will isolate me even more than I’m already isolated. And, mostly, it works. I am able to force myself to move forward into the present where there are people who love me and things – like Christmas morning – that I still look forward to.

But it’s hard. It’s exhausting. I’m just so tired.

She should be here.