Merry Christmas

by | Dec 25, 2010 | 6 comments

I haven’t had a lot of access to a computer, and not being able to write and process has made me so aware of how vital the writing is to my grieving.  The thoughts go around in my  head and if I don’t neatly spill them out, I feel cluttered and confused – heavier than  usual. 

So…I kept a litte file of those thoughts, and now will happily spill them while I have a moment.  We’re at my aunt’s now- Audrey is freshly bathed and ready to tear into her presents under the tree when my cousins and their children arrive later this afternoon.

Checking in- checking in to our “casita” at the resort, was something I hadn’t anticipated.  Sure, you take the trip to make a buffer for your first holiday without your loved one- everyone recommends it.  But then you’re really hitting another milestone at the same time as the holiday- traveling or even, vacationing- though I’d hardly call this that- for the first time without you Dan. 

When my parents and brother headed into their own rooms that first night, I was shocked that Audrey and I would be sleeping in this large room, with king sized bed overflowing with pillows…
by ourselves. 

It’s not that I can’t do this- I have before.  It’s that this is our new life…this is how it will always be – because we have lost you.

I propped up the photos I brought of you on a little desk so that we could see them. 

I took a breath and did all of the things necessary to get us both ready for bed.  Audrey went back and forth between the hotel’s pack and play and the giant bed with me about ten times before she requested to sleep “over there” back in the crib and finally, exhausted, fell asleep. 

But before she did that, she cuddled with me and commented, “I wish appa was in this hotel room.”  “I do too, I do too,” I replied. 

I visited the well-known spa there two days- once for a moisturizing wrap- and a second day for a pedicure and massage.  It really sounds like I’m living in luxury right?  Walking around the beautifully landscaped paths of pebbles and cacti and fountains on the resort, I felt I could escape more into role playing than I can in…New Jersey.  I tried to become “the young widow at a resort to heal her soul by getting treatments at the spa.” 

It didn’t work.

No amount of luxury or money can be thrown at this “problem.”  This was good to confirm, although I already knew it.

Another thing that was good to confirm.  There does seem to be a distinct difference between body and soul.  While my body was slathered with oils and lotions and massaged, my pain felt absolutely no different.  Tears dropped off the tip of my nose while I lay face down with my head cradled in the massage table.  I could hear the thighs of the overweight girl doing my first treatment rubbing together and at one point, she dropped something loud and tin sounding into the sink.  “Sorry!” she whispered.

“That’s OK,” I smiled. 

It’s almost as if we’re aiming for some kind of Eden in these places- everyone walking around in their robes but looking kind of uncertain what to do.  We fall short. 

The other woman who did my massage was chatty while we got ready asking me about the holidays so I ended up telling her why I was here and that I might start crying during the massage.  She was thrilled to tell me about a book she heard about on NPR that morning that she thought was meant for me.  “Now I know why I heard that, because I was going to meet you.”  She had clear eyes and short greying hair and oozed a New Agey kind of “I am working with the world- I am full of peace- see?” aura.  Still, I didn’t mind her and she did stop talking once she started the massage.  When she led me back to the “quiet room” when it was done, she looked me in the eye and said “I wish you peace in the New Year.” 

Peace- that word gets thrown around a hell of a lot.

So I am moisturized (supposedly though I feel dry and itchy again), massaged, and the cracks in my feet have been filed (almost) away.  But here’s what I found.  Before your death I felt I was a body carrying around a soul.  Now, I am a soul lugging around a body.  There is a huge difference between the two.

“You should pamper yourself,” everyone kept telling me.  “You deserve it and you have to take care of yourself.”  This is true.  I stepped on the hotel scale and found I’ve lost 20 pounds since you died. 

But what I found is that pampering the outside was like cleaning a window on the wrong side and the dirt and dried water drops just stay there no matter how much you spray down that window.  It felt like that. 

So, now we’ve left the resort.  Audrey had a great time and they even had Mrs. Claus come to the lobby one afternoon  and do face painting, magic tricks, and tell stories.  Who knew she could do all that?  Audrey loved it. 

Last night was spent at my cousin’s two houses down.  She had about eighty people.  Many of my Aunt’s family who I haven’t seen in many years since they moved out here from Long Island came over to say hello to me.  They looked sympathetic and brave.  Some of them had structured questions like “When did you get here?  When are you leaving?”  That’s probably what I would’ve done with a new widow.  Many of them told me Audrey was beautiful.  There isn’t a lot of diversity around her so I think she stuck out. 

I thought Dan about what you would’ve thought of all this- how Audrey’s been spending all this time with my family while yours is in Korea.  Sometimes it feels like she is becoming more mine- and less yours because you’re not here.  I don’t want this.  She will always be yours.  It’s almost like I’ve been dropped back off into my life before you- esp. seeing people I hadn’t seen in years.  But it’s like trying to squeeze Audrey back into her first pair of shoes- they don’t fit. 

But all in all, I think you would’ve really liked the way Audrey is spending her holiday.  They hired a Santa to come and Audrey was quite excited to see him- her first real Santa.  That is one of the most painful things about this holiday- it is the first year that Audrey is actually aware of Christmas and enjoying it the way children do.  Last year she was only fifteen months.  I thought of you missing this.  How can there be a God?  That is when this question comes up the most for me.

A few of the quieter moments during the party, I was able to envision you there.  I saw you making conversation with lots of people, while also eating a lot of the food.  I saw you with a beer in your hand giving me a nod the way you did by moving your chin up slightly from across the room.  Without thinking, I did this nod myself. 

Then at one point, I went outside to get a drink and through the window could see Audrey playing with a toy she’d received with my mom.  The sound of course was muted through the window but I watched the scene and imagined that maybe…just maybe you were seeing something like this from where you are. 

Today is Christmas, 2010, I tell myself.  It is the first Christmas that I haven’t spent with you since 1998.  We usually exchanged our gifts at midnight on Christmas eve- a tradition we started the first Christmas we had together.  I don’t believe that you are dead.  More and more I find I tell myself that you are on a long trip and I must endure- the way I did when you were truly traveling.  (You see, I know). 

I know that no one here is feeling your absence the way that I do.  For them, it’s Christmas, they’re busy, cooking, eating, watching kids rip open presents, and all that.  I feel your absence Dan.  Every moment.  But I am just finding less moments to tell you because of all of the busyness and the lack of our routine at home.  After Audrey’s bath this morning, I let her run down the hall naked to find my mom to dress her.  I get into the shower and tell you, “Merry Christmas, Dan.”  I clutch the shower walls and call out for you.  Then I get out, get dressed, come here to write.  Then I will go back to the main room of the house and the place of the festivities and watch Audrey open gifts and smile and eat and talk to cousins I haven’t seen in years.  Don’t let it fool you.

Today is Christmas, 2010.  Merry Christmas Haewan.  I miss you very, very much.


December 25, 2010


  1. Ann

    Merry Christmas Julia. I love you and I'm thinking about you and Audrey. I'm so glad you were able to write a little. I miss hearing from you.

  2. YM JK

    Merry Christmas

  3. nikki

    "But what I found is that pampering the outside was like cleaning a window on the wrong side and the dirt and dried water drops just stay there no matter how much you spray down that window. It felt like that."
    yes… exactly. everyone else is so quick to suggest pampering… it just feels so… fake. merry christmas to you

  4. Sabrina

    I too love the narrative of the pampering because others are so true to tell me to slow down and pamper myself. I think it's the lack of true knowledge about the situation. Though well intended it is exactly the way you describe. I also understand the moments that make you question God. It's hard to hit these new milestones and not question it all; I know I do.

  5. Brooke Simmons

    Love the dirty window analogy…that describes it perfectly. You are so good with words, you speak to me on levels that no one else understands.

  6. Anonymous

    Your words are the ultimate resounding feeling of what it is like to lose a partner. And partner in every sense of the word-someone to get you, to accept you, to be on your team. I know the feeling of trying to become or fit into this widow that…(insert apt words)'. And nothing, ever, sits right. So this is what grief looks like?? you think to yourself. Because to me, my insides are ripped out- but everything externally looks the same.
    The pain lives on.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like…

List-making in a Dark Time

List-making in a Dark Time

For any other list-makers out there, I published this on HerStories yesterday.""In this time of quarantine, my lists are offering me space outside of the walls of my home, a way of making sense of chaos, a self-imposed structure on structure-less days, and even a way...

Simple Things

Simple Things

"In our deepest self we keep living with the illusion that we will always be the same." Henri Nowen "It's really very simple," my late spiritual director, Gladys, once said to me. She was talking about how she lived each day, waking up, having a written conversation...

Continuous Living

Continuous Living

"Anxiety turns us toward courage, because the other alternative is despair." Paul Tillich I've claimed "seasonal affective disorder" for years, and that may be so, but I'm starting to realize it's not only summer to fall that is hard for me. It's winter to spring, and...