“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”- Walt Disney
I guess with December 5 marking Walt Disney’s birthday, and the anniversary of his death just a week away, his quotes have been on my mind. This quote seems to resonate a lot with me this holiday season. This is my fourth holiday season without Ben. During the first holiday season without him, his loss was very raw, and on top of feeling that devastation, I found myself caught up in the memories of the holiday season of 2013, right before my dad died. That year, I observed the holiday season from car and train windows on my way to and from the hospital and then the VA Hospice in Northport, NY. Though I did decorate the apartment for Ben and me, there was nothing festive about our lives. The truth was that I did not get to really grieve for my dad because I was preoccupied with caring for Ben. At the same time, Ben and I both felt the immense weight of my dad’s loss.
My first holiday season alone was painful. I had always made a silly holiday card starring my cat, Disney, but I wasn’t really in a festive frame of mind. I decided to make a card that was a tribute to Ben, using the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne.” Since then, I have kind of gone through motions around the holidays. I always put up my tree. I continued to put the tree ornaments that Ben loved exactly where they were when he was here, placed where he could see them from his desk. I have gone to see a couple of the holiday store windows, which are usually such a treat in New York City. But, it left me feeling empty and alone. I walked through the holiday markets around the city but felt sad, remembering how I rushed through them looking for something to bring Ben but not wanting to waste time because I had to get home to him. I have not gone to see the Rockefeller Center tree in all this time. These things didn’t feel fun and happy to me. They were painful reminders of my caregiving days and how Ben could not get outside to enjoy things with me and how I did not have time to myself. Last year I simply could not muster the enthusiasm to make a holiday card. I did take a photo of Disney, as I frequently do, and I emailed it to a few people, but I could not put on a happy face and pretend that I was feeling the holiday spirit.
This year feels different. I had to get a new tree- it’s purple, but Ben’s favorite ornaments still have their places of respect in tribute to him. Last weekend, on my way to meet a friend, I walked through one of the holiday markets- I was not terribly enthusiastic, but I also did not dread it. Yesterday, on my way home from school, I decided to go to Macy’s to see the windows. I was keenly aware of this change in my mindset. I also made the usual mental note that I am now able to make spur of the moment decisions to do things that I’d like to do, and although it didn’t exactly feel good, I did not feel the guilt that used to surround me whenever I did something that I was not able to do when I was caregiving or that I enjoyed with Ben. I still feel the loneliness, but it’s a feeling that I’ve integrated into my life that no longer keeps me from pushing forward.
Today, I took an “ugly sweater” cookie decorating class. Baking and decorating cookies is one of my favorite things to do. It’s like my therapy- usually a three-day epic event which thoroughly engages my attention and sense of whimsy. I’m happy that my friends love them. Ben delighted in watching me because it made me so happy and because his daughter was thrilled to get them. We carefully counted the number of each design, remembering how my grandma always counted the matzah balls she made because my dad would sneak into the kitchen to eat them. As I was walking to the class, I thought about how my life has changed. I can freely take classes now. I can feel the excitement of the holidays. Tomorrow, I am going to try to make time to see the Rockefeller Center tree. I am used to missing Ben, at the same time knowing that he is with me. I am more purposeful in my planning and more energetic. There are times when I get overwhelmed and I allow myself those moments of tears and loneliness. But, I am also able to enjoy activities and occasions and I welcome and embrace that joy, too. It’s a kind of emotional juggling act that I seem to be mastering.
The paths won’t be the ones I planned. Right now, I don’t have the purpose that I had as a caregiver. I don’t really know what awaits me, though I know that I would like to find love again and I would like to pursue my blog and pet business ideas. I know there will be bumps, and since I am a klutz, I don’t know how well I will navigate them. I have learned, however, that I will be okay. The good thing is that, as Walt said, I keep moving forward and discovering new things about myself and life.