The dark side of holidays


(12/5/2004)

by Frances Edstrom

The first Christmas after the death of our son, I struggled to make a "normal" holiday for the rest of the family, fool that I was.

One day I found myself (and I literally was momentarily lost) standing in the old Snyder Drug Store downtown, staring at a wall of greeting cards.

Suddenly the weight of all that jollity became unbearable, and I stood rooted to the floor. Obviously the world was going on its merry way all around me. Jolly, jolly, holly, holly, happy happy. It was utterly absurd to me, some existential joke. I was frozen with the fear that I couldn't live through this, with this reality.

As I stood there, Lloydine Abbott came by, and asked with tender concern how things were going. I burst into tears and couldn't talk. She gave me a big hug and said soothing things, and finally the horror of the experience passed, and I was able to thank her and leave the store, without making a purchase, as I couldn't remember what it was I had been there to buy.

Nine years later, I feel blessed to have had so many people to lean on the way I leaned on Lloydine that day in the drug store. My support group was vast. I lived.

I thought of that day again yesterday, when an e-mail came from my sister Susan, who is now home in Massachusetts. She wrote that she went to the grocery store and got bunches of sweetheart roses in various shades of pink, and then took them to the cemetery, where our sister Terri (whose favorite color was pink) is buried. She died a year ago December first.

Last May, I flew home for a family memorial gathering on Terri's birthday. Terri had always greeted her birthday as though it were a national holiday. She adopted the entire month as birthday time, and broadcast the news to all. She wasn't much of a person for "things" and didn't care about gifts. She loved people, and the more people gathered together to celebrate, to have fun, to laugh, the more she liked it. So it seemed we had to gather for her birthday, even though she was gone.

We drove up to the cemetery in Ashland, Mass. It's a beautiful place, reminiscent of Woodlawn here in Winona. At that time, Terri's husband, Stephen, hadn't yet steeled himself to buy a stone, but did show us photos of things he liked. It was horribly sad and uncomfortable. I couldn't bring myself to look at the photos, but obviously Stephen was teetering, beseeching us for help, not with the stone, but with coping. He needed support the way I did in the drug store that day long ago.

We made feeble attempts at propping up the situation, then after a short telling of memories of Terri, and some prayers, got in our cars and drove solemnly home.

Since then, Susan reports, Stephen has chosen a grave marker and it has been installed. Terri would be pleased, we think. But then Stephen could do no wrong in her eyes, so maybe what we really mean is that we are pleased and think he got it right for our sister.

Beloved Wife

Therese C. Bowler

May 22, 1955 Dec 1, 2003

Terri

Green be the turf above thee

Friend of our better days

None knew thee but to love thee

None named thee but to praise

Thou wast all that to me, love

For which my soul did pine.

A green isle in the sea, love

A fountain and a shrine.

We are not alone as we struggle with loss, although it often seems so, as though there is no one who cares, no one to help. This time of year is exceptionally trying, and many of us succumb to depression, sometimes severe.

We have to remember that there are times when life is tortuous, and we must not give in to hopelessness. Whoever said "Time heals all wounds" should have added, "but often leaves a scar."

But we can live with scars.

 

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