My father was Christmas. I was in the first grade when I realized not everyone had a Christmas tree approximately half the size of the living room. He was a cute smart red-haired boy and he said his tree was three feet high. I was flabbergasted and I felt sorry for him. How could you possibly have a tree smaller than half the size of a living room? That was when I realized not everyone had as wonderful and as beautiful a tree as I had at home. Not everyone had a full art installation every year in the form of a tree. It took us about a week to finish the tree. It took one evening to drag the tree in, have dad cut off the bottom and top so we had the fullest part of the tree and set it in the living room. We took a day to do the lights and Mom would always say that it was so beautiful just the way it was. Then the following days we would unwrap the ornaments and tell stories about the ones we loved best. Dad would always have a few new ones. He always put the wedding cake topper in the tree because he said it brought good luck. If we had a tree decorating party, people would sit down after an hour saying they could not find a place to put another ornament, but we could keep going for hours more. Then we would put on the tinsel. Dad never could deal with the metal icicles, so we put hundreds of plastic icicles on for a finish. All the while, we had German Christmas Carols playing. Christmas was so central to who my father was. It was a horror that first year without him.
My dad died in June. That gave me six months to make a plan on how I would handle Christmas, or at least get my head around putting up a tree. You might think that was a long enough time, but Christmas was all about Dad. December came and I made no moves to decorate anything. On December 21, my husband took me aside and said, “You have two small boys. You have to put up a tree. Honey, you can’t stop Christmas from coming. I know you see your dad in everything, but you have to put up a tree.” So, I put up my small, three-foot tree. If anyone can make a three foot tree look like a jewel, it would be my father’s daughter. I even put up a wreath that I purchased the year before because I thought Dad would love it. I cried a lot, but I put up the tree.
Every year is hard, but every year is made easier. We put up at least one tree. Sometimes we put up two. I “take Dad with me” when I go into Christmas section of stores. Mind you, I know in my bones that I have no business purchasing one more ornament or decoration. I don’t think my boys could justify any such purchases. I put up the tree with my boys now. I see that they love the tree too. I love passing the love of the tree and Christmas on to my boys. The pain does not miraculously go away – I cry every year. Sometimes with all the festivities around me it has felt incongruous with my feelings, but I have found a way to take my grief with me through the holidays. I celebrate the feast days, and in my family we have quite a few, by making the celebration the way we would like while still remembering Dad. This year, we are using dad’s big tree. It hasn’t been used in seven years and I think I can handle it this year. The basement is still filled with his ornaments and one day, my sister and I will have to open those boxes up and deal with the memories these bring to us. I’m hoping we get to it in the next year. It’s not a perfect process, but one we can live with. Grief is a process and we are never really done with it. My sister says grief is like an unwanted roommate that just won’t go away.