Thursday, December 22, 2011

Steel Gray

The sky is a steel gray, a fitting cover for the city nicknamed the Steel City I guess, but it is the harbinger of more rain, not snow.  It's not the kind of sky that gives you snow.  It's just the kind of sky that presses in on you, oppressive and dark.  For those locals I follow in social media, either on Twitter or Facebook, the atmosphere seems to be getting to them, the stress of the holidays made worse by a midday sky that casts long shadows in homes and offices.  Of course, most of these individuals are people I have connected with as fellow Steeler fans, so we're all licking our wounds from a horrendous walloping on Monday night and they would be surly in any weather.  We all hope the team rebounds on Christmas Eve Day or else it will likely not be a Merry Christmas in the 'Burgh.  For all the times I've tried to tell myself to gain some perspective and accept that it's just a game, I can now rest assured that I am far from alone in taking this sport way too seriously.  As a matter of fact, I'm on the sane side of the fence compared to some of the Steeler Nation.  It's one of the many things I've learned in my time here.  But, I digress, because the Steelers, while always on my mind, are not what are weighing me down this day.

This will be the third holiday without Kelsey.  We have others who aren't with us:  Greg's father, whose birthday was on Christmas Eve, and both my parents.  But, let's just face the truth of it, there is a cycle of life that one accepts, perhaps with sadness, but with a stalwart determination to continue on in the face of losing a parent because that's what they want and would expect of us.  I expected my children to survive me and maybe spare a thought about me on the anniversary of my birth and on the big holidays maybe.  I hoped that they would carry on my memory by baking pumpkin cookies at Thanksgiving and spritz cookies at Christmas and teaching their kids how to do it, telling them stories about baking in the little narrow kitchen back on Applewood Drive in Austin when they were little.  I envisioned that my two daughters would get together around one of their kitchen tables, drinking strong coffee, maybe something stronger altogether, and tell stories about me.  Some I know would be critical ("Remember how loud she snored!?"), some hopefully endearing ("I remember the first time she took me to see Star Wars..."), some a mixture of both.  I hoped that they would be able, with a little distance, to see some of my failures as a parent not for lack of love or intent on my part, but just as a result of my being all-too-human.  Like my parents, like Greg's dad, and like most of us, I would hope that they would see me for a flawed, but well-intentioned individual and remember me fondly to their children.  That is how we all live on, through our progeny - taking little pieces of the traditions we have taught them and having them in turn teach their children.  Are they sad that we are no longer with them?  Yes, but we hope that they mix that with the gladness in their hearts for what we gave them, and we trust that they are able to carry on.  And, so, with my parents, that is the case.  On Sunday, I will take out Mother's china and finest tableware, I will set them on linens Greg's mom has given us, and I will prepare food that mixes a little of what both Greg and I grew up with.  Mother will be on my mind, as will Dad - he was such a child around Christmas, this serious veteran of two wars reduced to such innocent wonder - but, all would be well and natural except...

And of course, that's a big exception.  How does one carry on, even after time has passed, when the natural order of the world has been so egregiously torn asunder?  Here we are, in this new city, trying to establish new traditions, and we circle back to the same old place, which is there is a member of our family that should be here and is not.  One would think it gets easier over time, and undoubtedly it will. But now is not that time.  As I baked dozens of cookies over the last few weeks, trying to build up a stockpile for Greg to take to his co-workers, I was struck by the thought that Kelsey would have been the age I was when I had her and realizing my loss includes not only my daughter but any grandchildren who I might have had at my side, being able to teach them to bake, having them wait to be able to lick the beaters, like I had done, like my kids had done.  I would never have those kids to introduce Star Wars or Willow to.  I will never read Kelsey's children The Hobbit.  I will never have the chance to sit around a table with my daughter and tell stories about Mom or Christmases at the Veldman house as her children listen and learn about their heritage.

Grief is a selfish emotion, I guess.  And it's a lonely one.  For Kelsey's relationship with each of us was unique, so the loss of her means something different to each of us.   Therefore, speaking strictly for myself, what I struggle to work through on this particular holiday is how to step across that big void and reach out for what I have remaining, which is quite a lot.  I'm guessing the parents who lose a child and are "successful" at piecing their lives back together do so by focusing on that, not getting lost in the vortex that is our grief.  I think it takes a little practice and a lot of patience.  So, while I had hoped, in the grand scheme of things, to put together a post around this time on tips to help parents cope with grief and loss at the holidays based on personal experience, I realized that I'm not there yet.  Unfortunately I feel as gray as the sky.  The best I can do is to tell you this:  hug your family tight, do not take them for granted.  Remember the holidays is not about getting Star Wars on Blu-Ray (although that would be nice...), try and celebrate what you have, even as you grieve over what you do not.  Every year I want to tip that scale a bit.  That's my personal goal.

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