I hate November. I hate turning that page on my calendar. November scares the hell out of me. Even if everything is going along smoothly in my life, when November comes, I expect the worst. I am waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me again. I seriously hate November. November is bad luck. In November, my karma is askew. My stars are out of whack. It begins in November, and it lasts clear through until the holidays finally, slowly, painfully come to an end.
It wasn’t always this way. As a kid, I looked forward to Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays. I loved seeing my grandparents and getting tons of presents. I loved decorating the Christmas tree and baking cookies. I loved it all. Now, I go through the motions. I know what I am supposed to do at this time of year, but my heart isn’t in it.
In 1987, my daughter Grace was born on November 24. She was born too early, just under three pounds. November reminds me of the happy anticipation of that year long ago. The nursery we were setting up, the Thanksgiving plans. That Thanksgiving didn’t happen. We spent that day sitting by our daughter’s bedside as she fought for her life. The crib we had put together days before her birth was sadly taken down weeks later, never used.
Grace lived for 17 days, and of course, the pain of loss has eased over the years. Four wonderful children have filled our home with love and laughter. The years have passed, and everyone seems to have forgotten the little girl who is a missing part of our family. I have learned to accept it, but I have never forgotten. Each year, I remember. For 17 days, the memories push themselves forward in my thoughts. It’s a curse and a blessing, too. I don’t want to remember the pain or the loss, but I do want to remember my daughter.
The things I remember are strange. I remember a morning when the sunshine lit up her crib and her fuzzy hair shimmered like a halo. I remember her bright blue eyes. I remember each day looking to spot a deer as we drove from our home to the University hospital. It was a created superstition. I imagined that if I saw a deer, it would bring her luck. (I still look for deer and think of Grace.) I remember the Christmas ornament that hung over her hospital crib. Each year I remember again as I hang them on our Christmas tree. Most of the things I remember are too personal. Sharing a death with another human being, even a child, is a profound experience. I wish it was something that neither Grace or I had to experience together, but it was peaceful and faced without fear. I am glad that I was able to hold her as she reached the other side. Grace died on December 11. It was a horrible time of year to lose a child.
Almost two years ago, I lost my father on that same day, December 11. Just that morning, I had talked to him on the phone. Days earlier, I had called him to borrow an extension cord for my exterior Christmas lights. That afternoon was the last time I saw him alive. He pulled into my driveway as the boys and I were outside putting lights on the bushes. We went inside and stood in my kitchen. It was festive. Dad was happy. He was happy that I had called for his help. He had hopped in his car and drove right over. He brought a box neatly organized extension cords and other electrical supplies. That afternoon when I called him, he had been working on his own Christmas lights. He brought me an electric timer. This way, he said, I wouldn’t even have to flip a switch. The lights would come on at a certain time, and go off before morning.
On the night of December 11 two years ago, the first thing I saw when my car pulled into his driveway was a darkened house with merry Christmas lights blazing outside. It was hideous. Inside that darkened house, T, Andrew, and I would discover my dad’s body dead on the living room floor. As he had laid in the darkness, the Christmas lights had come on. Like clockwork, and just as he had set them, the lights came on. December 11, the same day as Grace. It is comforting and horrifying at the same time. December 11 is a day when all I want to do is stay in bed and pull the covers up over my head.
November and December scare me. There are other things, other horrors, other losses. Anything I have ever loved and lost, I lost during these dark months which are supposed to be a time of celebration. I dread the change of season. The fear begins to creep in as the leave fall from the trees.
I have not been able to celebrate Christmas in two years. Sure, I have put up a tree, bought gifts, and wrapped them up. I have also spent a great deal of “holiday” time breaking down and crying in the privacy of my bathroom.
I want so much to have a happy holiday again, and I am trying my best to coach myself through this. Emily and I have been talking about this. (She also shares my November/December phobia.) We are determined to stand by each other and help each other turn that corner this year. One thing we are doing is getting our shopping done early. Yesterday she made lists and forced me out to the stores. Of course, Lola was our willing accomplice. Christmas music (already!) was playing on the radio. (Yuck!) We did accomplish a few things. Our Christmas shopping for all of the little girl cousins is finished, and we had a good time buying pretty little girl things. I was wiped out by the time we got home, though. So was Em.
As we pulled the car back into the garage, Lola was out of the car in a flash to play with the neighbor kids. Emily and I looked at each other and laughed. “Bah Humbug!” she said. We sat there and talked for a moment. I told her that I love her so much, and that I think she is such a wonderful person and such a blessing to me. Yes, our holidays are tainted by past memories. We’ll never have a Hallmark card Christmas, but that’s OK. We had a wonderful day TODAY, and that’s what matters. We need not to live in the past or look too far into the future. If we can say, “Today was good, ” then something is going right.