Holidays can be painful after you lose someone

Posted at 8:24 AM, Dec 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-22 08:24:50-05
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an open letter from our Director of Community Affairs, Lissette Campos. Many of you may recognize Lissette from Positively Tampa Bay, Community Calendar or from events all over the Bay area. Although she is one of our most generous, positive people in the newsroom, this year has been a difficult one for her. She hopes this letter can help those of you going through the same pain.
The holiday season has always been my favorite time of the year. As a child, I clearly remember thinking that the span of time between Thanksgiving morning and Christmas night was imbued with magic. It had to be! In my elementary-school mind, the clocks were moving too fast! It was unnatural!
I wish I still felt that way. This holiday season, the days feel painfully S L O W. I started wishing the holidays away the week of Thanksgiving and I’m still waiting for the whole thing to be over. Losing Dad to cancer this past April changed the holidays for me…and so much more. In the last 8 months, I’ve faced my first birthday without “Papi”…first Father’s Day, Mom’s birthday, and what would have been Mom and Dad’s 52 wedding anniversary. Each “first” was more painful than the one before.
As I prepare for the “big one” – Christmas morning – I am changing the plan. Giving in to the sadness and crying only makes me feel worse. I know because I’ve been there, done that. So on Friday morning I will attempt something different. That magical time warp I complained was marching forward too fast – I will bend back! It’s called “remembering.” I will emotionally stand up and step OUT of the sadness that’s been crushing me since April.
I’m not ready to soar yet, but I will roll in the memories. Roll around in each memory until I’m happier than sad…more grateful than mad. Why? Because Dad would want me to. “Life is for the living” he told me during his final days at the hospital. Life is for the living. I will remind myself of that on Christmas morning and every day before and after...
To fellow travelers on this same difficult journey I ask: “What will you do?”
I know that I am not alone on this Christmas of “firsts.” My heart knows there are many of you out there experiencing a year of firsts without a loved one. For reasons I can’t begin to explain, that thought gives me some comfort. Other “daddy’s girls” – just like me – trying to navigate the ebb and flow of grieving. It comes in waves. Sometimes they will knock us off our feet. Sometimes they won’t. Always we must get up.
A note I was given shortly after Dad’s burial comes to mind. It read: “Grief is not a destination, it’s a passage. Grief is not a place to stay. It never ends, but it changes. It’s not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. It is the price of love.” They are comforting and empowering words, but they can also be dangerous. Grieving to the point you lose yourself in the sadness is not a badge of honor. It’s not a sign of who loved “the most.”
So here’s my plan to face Christmas – the day I’ve been dreading with all my heart. I will smile. I will focus on Mom. I will give thanks, rather than ask “why?!”
Long before Dad died, I knew I was blessed with an extraordinary father. I will soak in all the light and love each memory can hold. I will close my eyes to take it all in and surely the memories of Dad’s voice will come. I can almost hear his voice now, sitting in his chair at the head of the table, delighting us with stories of life in New York as a starving, Cuban refugee…the winter coat and Russian hat they gave him at the Salvation Army thrift store in Minneola…and his first visit to Central Park in Manhattan. Dad had never seen a tree, leaf-less, before that October day in 1961.
Christmas breakfast at Mom and Dad’s house has always been a sacred tradition for my brother, sister and I. It’s important to our children now too. Death should not rob us of that sanctuary. Don’t let it rob you or yours.
In my pocket I will be packing some ammo to help keep me on track. Read it below.
THE SHIP by Henry Van Dyke
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says, 'There she goes!'
Gone where?
Gone from my sight, that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, 'There she goes!' there are other eyes watching her coming and their voices ready to take up the glad shouts 'Here she comes!'
This is how I see and understand death.