Christmas is an iceberg decorated with lights and sadness
It’s easy to believe that scars on the skin – the rough, the pitted, the keloid – left by experience or trauma might have correlative emotional reminders inside.
I have a stupid scar on my arm from carving the initial of my first middle school crush. It was morbid and reckless, and speaks of having too much free time as a 13-year-old, but when I see the scar, I remember the confused feelings of connection and isolation. It doesn’t come with a time-of-year memory like an anniversary or birthday, but it does remind me of youth’s impulsivity. I did that to myself.
The holidays have another kind of scarring. For many people, sadness floods back to us like a dark, annual migration. Although it has been 30 years, every year I mourn the loss of my father and relive the trauma of his passing on Christmas Day.
It’s not that it happened to me, because nothing happened to me. He is the one who lost his life to cancer. It’s more of a freight train of impending trauma. The short illness, the family tension and intrigue, the slow-roll suffering and loss, and the freeze-frame memory of his mother seeing her dead son and falling apart.
It’s like slush and an iceberg decorated with lights and sadness.
It’s warmth leaving the body from folded hands.
It’s never been about me, as I said: he lost his life; I didn’t. But in the slush of memory’s ice, I am aware that I was 22, a new mom, newly married and about to be divorced, untethered, angry and fatherless. And all in quick succession. It was hard to keep food down, let alone feelings. It was tough to get through those days, weeks, months.
I was so exhausted on that Christmas Day. I had the night shift of caring for Dad Christmas Eve and was convinced that he was growing stronger. At the same time, I was afraid to leave or sleep because he might die. Eventually, I did go home and I did sleep, and when the phone did ring, it rang with dark foreboding. I don’t blame myself for going home to sleep. The body needs what the body needs. But in the moment of the ringing, I had a fleeting moment of thinking I should have been there. Even though that moment was fleeting, it left a nest in my soul of not being enough.
As a result of death, a young person might experience the untethering of parent loss as a thing that pushes one forward to the front lines. I have been standing on the front lines of responsibility since I was 22. During the holidays, I just feel tired.
Each year the usual colors and glare of Christmas are inescapably woven into the fabric of loss. I am just one of many who carry dark and complicated associations to this season we associate with rebirth and becoming. On the outside, I bear no obvious scars on the skin, but there’s an emotional reminder that filters all the sparkle, all the music, into some sort of “Hotel California” riff of shimmering lights that I can never leave.