Ghosts of Christmas past

I will admit to being stuck. Stuck in Christmas past, which — grief aside — has always been my “go to” place this time of the year. There’s something about the holiday that brings back vivid memories of childhood, even more so having watched the excitement and joy of my own two daughters that begins roughly an hour after Thanksgiving dinner and concludes (in a bit of a funk) on December 26. I clearly remember those feelings — remarkable when you consider I forget more and more each year.

Which brings me to the 1970s and the Christmases of my past, when we were still very much a family of four instead of a family of two. Both of the men that have existed in my heart and mind since I can remember are now gone, within two years of each other. Both shaped my life in VERY different ways, both left their mark on me, and both have left me reeling in their absence.

My dad was a very complicated man, revealing very little of his inner workings to anyone. When my parents split up when I was an adult, he even hesitated to share his new life, and for decades managed to keep his old family separated from the new. My dad played a recurring guest role in my life throughout much of my 20s, 30s, and 40s, but for whatever reason liked his space and kept his visits short. He’d check in, but never wanted to stay for long or listen too much. Ironic that at the time of his death, it was the just the two of us, like it had been when I was a child.

My brother had more of a starring role in my life probably because he was my peer, my childhood mirror, and the one person in my family that I related to. Unlike our dad, however, he had no physical presence for most of it. He liked his distances far and wide-reaching when it came to family. And while it was hard and I didn’t always understand, I could accept it without feeling rejected… most of the time.

Naively, I thought that once I got over the shock of his death (made surreal by not seeing him and getting a chance to say goodbye), his absence would be less traumatic. After all, he had existed in my head for most of my life anyway, only to appear randomly in my dreams or in my email inbox. I told myself that in many ways I had grieved the loss of him already in adjusting to our new normal. As it turns out I was wrong.

That the randomness of his contact has ceased forever is what has made the last few months so unsettling. Because, while he communicated infrequently, that he existed somewhere out in the world has been an ever-present thought throughout my forty eight years.

My familial connection has been disconnected. My childhood mirror has shattered. And here we are at Christmas. My head is swimming in memories and the knowledge that there will be no more.

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