It used to mean warm sweaters and bonfires. It used to mean watching leaves change and smiling at the inevitable giddiness of your kids as holidays approach. It used be "complaining" about the end of summer, while being blissfully oblivious to the fact that you're doing that while curling on the couch with hot chocolate and watching football with your family on a lazy Sunday. It doesn't mean any of that anymore. All of that was stolen.
It used to be discussing holiday traditions with other school parents. What does your family do for Halloween? That answer used to be so simple. "Oh, not much I guess. We go to my sister's house and my mom makes every kind of soup imaginable. The kids trick or treat around my old hometown. Of course, there is always that huge gamble of whether or not the 4 costumes I picked out will be warm enough! Fingers crossed!" I didn't think it was much at the time, because I didn't know it was everything. And not just the act, or the gathering, but the desire to DO those things was ever-present yet always unnoticed.
What does the season of fall mean now? It means haunting nightmares. It means children talking about costumes, but only 3 of them have decided what they'll be this year. There used to be four. I'm programmed for 4. I don't know how to do three. And Halloween means working particularly hard to put on a fake smile for my children as they run from door to door. No part of me wants anything to do with Halloween. But, even as I dread that day, I know that the burning pain I will experience then will be a papercut compared to the days to come.
Soon I'll have to listen to excited talk about Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'll hear songs that used to bring immediate happiness and anticipation, and now only bring anger and hurt. I used to love Christmas. Who doesn't when they've never been burned? It can be such a magical time of giving and love for others. But it also has the power to bring with it, the pain of an entire year. Now, Christmas means going through the motions of "family traditions" that mean nothing to me. How could they? My family isn't here. And while that statement inevitably brings up the "you have three children and a husband here" sentiment, it doesn't change the fact that what I say is true.
Having these feelings, and expressing them openly does not mean that I'm not grateful for the people in my life. I take less for granted than I ever would have, had I not met and loved my son. But, I've heard enough of the stories of putting on a brave face and shining in the face of tragedy. The truth is that sometimes "shining" means simply getting out of bed on these days. It means sitting in a room of people who are smiling and laughing while you hide behind a face of stone. For me, any expectation that I would "suck it up" to enjoy these days is ludicrous. It's the same as walking through a graveyard and asking its occupants to get up and participate. I am often confused by the idea that anyone could think that I'm able to function beyond basic movement. The truth is, I cannot walk and yet, my legs take me from one side of the room to the other. I cannot breathe, yet my chest rises and falls without fail. None of these functions are voluntary at this point. They just happen. And that's how my "holidays" will pass. They will just happen.
I assume that fall will take on new meanings for myself and my family as the years go on, but I also know for sure that they'll always bring with them a pain that I'll never adequately describe. I won't see what silly costume he picks out, or work tirelessly to come up with a special candy for him to eat. I won't have 6 full chairs around my Thanksgiving table, and I'll never see his eyes light up when it's time to open the presents. He won't be here in the way that I want him to, and I know that. I will likely never know the "fear" of having to work through the holidays. I'll never worry that I could possibly miss out on all the festivities that this time of year inevitably brings. No, that won't be me. I won't be afraid to miss it. My fear lies in showing up.