Sunday, December 9, 2018

Joy and grief


It's Adrian's first December and I'm struggling with the fact that I feel like this is supposed to be my most joyous Christmas ever!!! ™ and instead it's feeling like the hardest holiday season since the first one after my dad died. My dad's birthday was on Friday and I held it together all day and then listened to Gary Jules' Mad World in the car on repeat while I drove home from work and I cried. A lot. It was one of the last gifts we gave him - the album with that song. He heard it in our car and told Dustin he loved it and now I cry every time I hear it, thinking about him, thinking about death. This year is particularly emotional for me. I say my dad's name a million times a day now, since my daughter is named after him, and I feel like he has never been closer to us, or further away.

I had a resurgence of grief while I was pregnant - I didn't want to tell anyone about the baby, because every time I told someone it just reminded me that I couldn't tell my dad and stepmom. But I guess I didn't fully expect this December to be so hard. I thought that now that she's here I would be overwhelmed with joy and experience the holidays in a whole new way. (No pressure, right? Most joyous Christmas ever!!!)

And there is a lot of joy. Adrian will be eight months on Monday and I feel like I say this about every stage, but this is the best. She's crawling like a champ, and it's so much fun to be able to walk around the house with her following along. She loves being mobile and she's just delighted by everything and we're constantly discovering that she understands more than we think she does. It's amazing, she's amazing.

On the other hand, I'm coming off a particularly exhausting quarter at work, and combined with the sleep deprivation (I've just accepted the fact that she'll be continuously teething for the next two years) and the fact that my body is always fighting off daycare germs and my house is a mess because I never get past the bare minimum of tidying, every day feels like a crazy repeat of pumping and dishes and baby meals and I never seem to get ahead. I'm just worn down and it feels like my dad's birthday pushed me right over the edge because all weekend I've been crying, pretty much at the drop of a hat. For me, the holidays haven't been about gifts for a really long time. The feeling I strive for is peace. The quiet sense of calm when I would sit on the couch in front of the tree, with the whole house clean and a candle lit, the hours I would spend in the kitchen baking and then assembling boxes of cookies. I had a lot of time to myself, time to sit and think and remember the people we don't have anymore and feel grateful for the ones we do. I guess it was how I was coping, these December rituals, the hours I spent in my own head. And I'm realizing that it's going to be a while before the holidays look like that again. Don't get me wrong - I'm excited for this season of chaos, but I think I'm also having a hard time letting go of what it used to look like and I'm trying to figure out if there's some middle ground, where I'm embracing the insanity but also not living in a house littered with baby toys and abandoned cups of cold coffee (am I ever going to get to drink hot coffee again?). And beneath it all, constantly, is the grief, swelling up, brought so much closer to the surface because all my emotions are closer to the surface these days and it's scary but also kind of liberating and it's making me question the way I've handled emotions up to this point.

We are complicated beings, and I'm learning to sit in the middle of joy and grief and accept that I'll be feeling both, probably forever, but maybe not quite as intensely as I am in this moment. I'm probably going to cry a lot this month, and that's okay. The sweetness of watching my daughter gnaw on Christmas tree ornaments doesn't offset the sadness I feel, but it does bring a new dimension to my life, and I'm grateful for this experience, for this love, for this fleeting period when everything is new and fresh and my emotions are spilling out everywhere.

But I'm also going to try to use the rest of her nap to clean the house because let's be honest, there's only so much chaos I can embrace.

{photo of me and my girl, in front of a painting by my dad that hangs in her nursery - thanks to jamie for capturing this for us}


  1. I'm so sorry...
    I lost my mother when my baby was 3 months old, after a grueling 8 year long fight against cancer, and I couldn't grieve because I had a small baby that depended on me 24/7.
    Now, 2 1/2 years later, I'm beginning to feels some emotions that were buried, and it sucks.
    These special dates, like Christmas or birthdays are the worst. We miss them a lot, and it only gets worse on these occasions...
    I hear you, and am holding space for you.
    It will get better, hold on to good memories, and let yourself feel the sadness.

  2. you perfectly capture how joy can emphasize grief.

    and i definitely recommend putting your coffee in an insulated thermos right at the beginning and pouring small cups from that. only way to keep it hot!

    sending love.

  3. So beautifully put, as always. I lost my dad 15 years ago and the sadness is still with me, though it’s now a gentle hum in the background of my life. You are so generous to share your feelings here. Family, love and peace is all that matters xx

  4. Oh my. Thank you so much for sharing all this. I have commented on your blog a couple other times as it’s so fun to read, I think my baby is about month older than yours. I also lost my dad this year, three weeks after having my baby. It’s been such a complicated mix of highs and lows the last 9 months. I’ve been dreading the holidays and am doing much less to celebrate this time of year than I usually do. In that way I’m happy that my son is too young to know or care what our holiday traditions might be, and maybe I can get it together a little more in the next couple of years. Losing a parent is horrible, so just sending you love and as much peace as you can find in the small moments.

  5. You have such a beautiful and unique voice. I'm so sorry you lost your father so young. I hope the joy of your new family can arrive fully, when it comes, even though you may find yourself deep in sorrow at other times.

  6. Oh, your words ring so true! The endless cycle, the DESPERATION for silence (my grandpa's namesake/son is now TWO, which makes for little quiet or calm), the grief not only over loved ones lost, or far away, but also from the coping that has been the kitchen, and the impossibility of using it the same way.
    It took me about 18 months after his birth, but I did end up feeling like "myself" again, and like, "normal." Of course, here I am, 8 weeks along with number 2, staring down the gauntlet of another cycle of behind-ness and unfamiliarity!
    Godspeed, Momma.

  7. Wishing I could send you peace. Thank you for sharing—I hope writing about your dad lent some comfort amidst the grief. I agree with LPC, you have such a beautiful voice.

  8. Sending you love. Just know that you're going to be okay, you will come through the other side, and although that other side isn't one where grief doesn't exist anymore, it will be one where you become more comfortable with your grief, and maybe even come to appreciate it. How we deal with these things is so unique to each of us - do what you need to do to look after yourself, and feel all the things you need to feel. Again, sending love x

  9. Sending you the warmest thoughts over these challenging holidays as a long time fan of your writing. And as a mom to 5 year old twins who has long battled the cold coffee issue sending a recommendation for this - - which is a nice mix between a coffee mug and an insulated travel mug which keeps coffee warm (but I hate drinking out of). I bought it to keep wine cold in the summer but it has turned into a game changer in the mornings for keeping coffee warm. xo

  10. All the hugs, Rachel. All the hugs.

  11. I recently came across a term called "nonfinite loss" in the psychological literature. Quoted from my friend's thesis: "Nonfinite loss is an enduring loss that remains in a person's life without a prescribed timeframe, and tends to be accompanied by intangible losses, including the hopes and ideals of what a person believes should or could have been." I thought it was so apt, so validating to see it in described. I think of you, your ache for your dad and for your dad to have been a grandfather to Adrian -- your feelings make perfect sense. Lots of love to you.

    1. Thanks for this term- I'm going to investigate this- I'm thinking about what I call our deepest sorrows- or infinite sorrows could be another name- I think yours is the psychological term for what I'm trying to capture.

  12. What a beautiful piece of writing this is, and one that I relate to powerfully as I go through my own struggles this holiday. I know hardly anyone reads blogs anymore, but I do and I hope you keep writing, Rachel, because you're incredibly talented.

  13. I have found your candid post and these beautiful comments so comforting. I lost my mother in July. We have an almost 16 month old, and this Christmas we will be announcing we are expecting our second - and although we are so excited, this news and the holiday is covered in a blanket of grief.


  14. You said everything so well. The holidays can be really tough, and sometimes the memories, while so missed, are really painful. Thank you for sharing.

  15. I understand the emptiness as my dad also passed on a week before Christmas 19 years ago. Try to be kind to yourself by not putting too much pressure on you. Crying is a relief from the soul and very helpful during the heal process, don't deprive yourself of it. It is normal as you should. I still get teared eye when I talk about my dad. Dying is part of living and we ought to make peace with it. It will always be very hard that's why is important to be close to loving personal relations. You are not alone! Best wishes ;o)

  16. I'm very late to reading this, but I still wanted to tell you what a beautiful post it is. I hope peace found you in the New Year <3


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