I had a pretty good day recently. Which is shocking because I’ve starting in on my Christmas shopping.
I think what made it okay was that first of all, I got to spend some time with my mom. The other thing though…the true miracle…is that I was doing it at all.
For the past three Christmases (this will be my 4th without my husband), I think I have been in such denial that Christmas was going to actually happen that I left my shopping until the very last minute. This little practice made me feel so overwhelmed and exhausted by the time the actual day rolled around…it just compounded my anti-Christmas mood.
Before my husband died, I was always the girl who got her shopping done by September. I would keep my eye out all year for things that I thought my friends and family would like. When people would say on December 15th, “Man…I really need to get started on my shopping,” I would answer, “Really? I’m already wrapped and ready to go!”
Yes, I know. It annoyed the rest of my friends too.
But I’m kind of thinking that this year, the fog has lifted a little bit. No, I wasn’t done by Labor Day, but the fact that I’m doing it now is pretty miraculous. Two years ago, I would have never seen myself get to this point. In fact, last year, I was still picking stuff up at Walgreens on Christmas morning.
Don’t judge me. You can get a George Foreman and a smokin’ deal on t-shirts.
I think to most of the outside world, it’s pretty obvious some of the things that we struggle with during the holidays after the loss of a spouse. We’re lonely. We miss the family time. There isn’t anyone here to take the guts out of the turkey.
What most people don’t understand is how early the difficulties of the holidays start. When we walk into Macy’s in August and they’re hanging snowflakes and lights, I’m sure anyone paying attention can see us turn ghostly pale and suddenly seem rooted to a spot in the accessories department.
Gift giving changes a lot when your spouse is gone. And I mean…a lot. When my husband was here, I still did most of the shopping. But I knew that if I needed “Santa Claus” to assemble something, he would be right there with me at 3 AM, ignoring the directions and looking for that one missing screw that seemed to hold the whole darn thing together.
Now, not only do I have to find things that are already put together, I have no one to bounce ideas off of. And since I don’t think that my son really wants anything from Justice or the American Girl store, this puts me in a pickle.
My dad is stuck with getting a shirt and a book every year now, but he’s a really good sport about it and shakes each one like he’s not sure what he’s going to get. “Does it sound like a red shirt, or a green shirt? Does this feel like a spy novel or a biography??”
I’m sure he misses shaking something that actually sounds like it has pieces and hardware.
And what to buy the in-laws? I mean…sure…realistically he was no help in that department. But at least when I got frustrated with it, I could turn to him with a deadly glare and say, “I don’t care if you think your mom will never wear that sweater. What’s your solution? A welding helmet?”
Gawd…I miss that.
And don’t even get me started on the “couples” gifts. My husband may have blown it on most birthdays and anniversaries. He hated Valentine’s Day and didn’t put anything in my Easter basket. But he made up for it at Christmas. Since he’s been gone…well…these past few years have been when I’ve really digested the fact that I’m an adult. Because around the holidays, he always made me feel like a kid.
The funny thing is, I always felt like I did the opposite. I was a champ at birthdays and nothing makes a man feel guiltier than when you get him something nice on Valentine’s Day and he hands you a packet of seeds instead of flowers (and yes…he did do that one year), so I always capitalized on it. But he always seemed to outshine me at Christmas.
It’s hard shopping for everyone else and everywhere you turn you see something for him. All of those years I felt the pressure of his Christmas present…who would have thought I would miss that? But I do.
Last week, as I was walking through Sear’s with the kids, I passed through the tool section and nearly had a panic attack. What’s weird is that years ago, I probably walked through the same section and felt something similar. (All those tools…spinning around me….no air…oh the pressure…where the heck are the gift cards?)
The truth is, nothing makes us feel more like our spouse is missing than the present we didn’t buy. To me, that’s harder than the present I’m not getting. And this has been the first year I’ve been able to even start on this process without constantly asking myself, “What would he have wanted? If he were here, what would he be giving everyone else?”
I’m not going to lie to you. It’s still hard. And I expect it always will be. But since the holidays only roll around once a year, I guess it takes a lot of extra time for us to digest our new “special occasion” normal.
At least at this point I’ve gotten to expect a little extra heart pounding at Home Depot. I know my hands will get sweaty when I pass by the auto parts store all decorated in tinsel and tools. And now I circle the jewelry ads with a pencil instead of a big, fat, red Sharpie.
What can I say? I’m still a work in progress.
Catherine Tidd 2010