Whether we like it or not, the holiday season is upon us. There is a ridiculousness to starting to plan Christmas before Halloween, just like Halloween in September. That has been well covered elsewhere and I have nothing to add to it. I mean, what's the deal with airline food? Instead, let's focus on the holidays and on the unexpected surprises that can throw off an entire day or week.
This topic is coming to mind because The Byrd's "Turn, Turn, Turn" just came on random on iTunes. That song used to remind me of The Wonder Years. Now it reminds me of Melly's first memorial service. Her brother-in-law, Tim, read Ecclesiastes chapter 3, 1-8, at the service. It was beautiful and touching, and is about as secular as I want to get these days. It was extremely hard for Tim to read, as it is hard for me to hear that song now.
Triggers, like the Byrds song, lead me to memories I sometimes would like to avoid. Those memories lead to other memories, which in turn remind me that they are missing and I am here, alone. The song led from the sadness of the service to the happier Wonder Years tie-in. Melly and I spent most of two separate summers' evenings watching the show from start the finish. The first time right after we got married, before we had cable and it was on a local public access channel, and more recently in 2014 off of Netflix.
This lead to memories of all the other shows we watched together those from Breaking Bad, to Mad Men, to House of Cards. Which led me to think about the fantastic Mr. Robot. We started it in June but didn't get to finish together. Remembering that reminded me why, which led back to the sadness, restarting this vicious cycle. One three-minute song comes on the stereo and I've spent thirty minutes thinking about TV shows and alternating between laughing and crying.
These encounters with the world are never fully anticipated. Part of their power is drawn from this sense of surprise when they appear. Places that never meant anything to me before are now like pilgrimages. There is the large rock in a parking lot off of 7th street where we used to watch the fireworks on the 4th. There is children's hospital where we donated all of her flowers after the service. There is the dry cleaners that used to be our favorite Chinese food restaurant. These things are a part of my life now. I can avoid going near them the way that ancient mariners avoided unexplored areas on their maps. Here Be Dragons. Or I can acknowledge them when they appear, and somehow try to live around them.
This is an oversimplification, to be sure. There is not an easy way around any of this. It is all hard, and the only way through it is to go through it. You can't shortcut your way around it, because sooner or later than emotional bill is going to come due. You have to stay current and try not to let the interest accrue too much. All of these unexpected triggers are the hidden charges on that bill, from the song on the radio to the way that the light is coming through the window. It may not be a big thing but it still has the power to knock you on your ass.
In the context of the holidays these surprise triggers gain strength. You spend your time focused on getting around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and you get blindsided. While your attention is on the big stuff, the little stuff wreaks havoc. Like water in a small crack turning to ice and carving a canyon wall.
I've had different people give different advice. Some suggest that I treat the holidays as if this were any other year. If we had traditions I should try to stick to them where possible. Acknowledge Melly and Matt where needed, but more or less make a plan try to stick to it. I've had other people tell me to make new traditions, try new things, go new places. Take the power away by taking the old holidays away. Neither option seems right to me. I know that being home on Halloween and Thanksgiving will bring back some nostalgia, and in turn some tears. At the same time, those memories also bring them back to me, make me feel closer to them.
There is nothing wrong with crying, with grieving. But there needs to be a balance. I can't live in the grief 24/7. I can't get by with ignoring it. These little triggers can be useful. The can be the cues to keep me grounded. That will require some work try to anticipate them, or at least to have a plan for when the appear. Right now that involves me say "hello" or "thank you" to Melly when she appears. I know this sounds a little crazy, but is it any more crazy that saying a small prayer of thanks when something good happens? If it is something that helps, and doesn't hurt anyone else in the process, why judge it?
My stock answer to people who ask how I am doing these days is to say that "each day is a new day..." The implication is that each day is a reset, and it is what we make of it. Life is going to continue to throw these daily surprises my way. I can let the path push me like a broken branch in a river's current, wherever that may lead, or I can be more constructive and let them teach me to remember the good and let go of the bad.