Every year since my father died, I hope the uninvited guest doesn’t show.
Every year around this time I think, “Maybe this will be the year that he won’t make an appearance.”
The season begins and at first things go well. I can feel quite fine for a while, even unexpectedly buoyant as the muscle memory of the holidays catches me by surprise—and I let my guard down. I actually begin to fully consent to the joy.
I fool myself into believing I won’t have to contend with him this year, and all he brings with him when he barges in, unannounced and uninvited—the mess he so recklessly tosses into the fan. For a while I begin to feel like I’ve been given an annual reprieve—and I exhale.
And then it happens: A song on the radio, a smell coming from the kitchen, a photo on my timeline, a keepsake unwrapped for the first time in twelve months—and there he is sitting close beside me again: this Grief that doesn’t take a holiday.
At first I’m rightly pissed off at the intrusion, furious that he’s once again broken open those locked away rooms in my heart that I try all year to fortify. I resent the lump in my throat and the tears streaking down my cheeks and the void I’m feeling again because he’s here.
I don’t want this right now. I don’t want him in this house. I want Grief to let me be for one freakin’ season so that I can receive those tidings of comfort and joy that I’m supposedly entitled to but never seem to get my arms around.
I want Grief to leave.
But then I realize that he hasn’t come here uninvited to do me damage. He’s come here to surprise me with a gift that I hadn’t asked for, wouldn’t say I wanted, but so desperately need.
The gift he gives me is this terrible, painful bittersweetness that reminds me just how well loved I was by my father to be feeling such sadness now. This heartbreak is a monument, these tears a tribute.
That’s why Grief is here. He is the tax on loving people, and the fact that I am feeling such a deficit in his presence is a celebration of how blessed I’ve been, to have someone to grieve so fully over.
Grief is here right now to give me the gift of feeling it all again freshly, so that I never forget how beautiful those holidays were, how easy gratitude was, how effortless singing a song of joy could be.
And yeah, maybe this is all much more difficult now, and maybe I’ll never have a holiday quite like that again because of the subtraction that’s taken place—but this uninvited, unannounced Grief reminds me that just as my father left a legacy of love with me, so I’m given these days to do the same with those I hold dear.
I have this season and these holidays and this moment to be present with those I treasure; to make memories and create traditions and notice beauty—because that is what those we so miss right now did with us while they could.
They shared their now with us, while grieving the then they missed too. They celebrated life while being visited by Grief too. This is what love does.
So while I tried my best to avoid him this holiday season, and while I don’t like some of what he brings when he shows up, I think I’ll invite him in for a while.
I think I’ll welcome Grief this year.