You do what you have to do.
Last night, I watched the Christmas episode of the popular TV comedy “Modern Family.” For various reasons this year, the Pritchett-Dunphy clan is not going to be able to be together on December 25th so they decide at the last minute to celebrate their family Christmas on the 16th. But since they are totally unprepared, the predictable chaos that is necessary for a hilarious segment ensues and it’s a disaster. But in the end, they do have their Christmas celebration, albeit in an unconventional style.
Earlier in the week, I read a commentary piece in the paper about a woman who couldn’t face this Christmas at her ancestral home. Her mother and most of the members of that generation had died and the writer found the prospect of trying to recreate the traditional family gathering with so many absences just too painful. So this year she is intentionally going to create a new tradition with just her husband and children together on Christmas Day in their own home.
I found some comfort in these variations from the Christmas norm and some affirmation that I’m not totally crazy myself—I’m not alone in celebrating a deviant Christmas.
My partner Bill and I were together as a couple for thirty-three years before he was suddenly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died two weeks later. During those many years together, we hosted innumerable Christmas dinners and other special family celebrations in our home. Sometimes there were too many of us to sit around the table so we would do it buffet style. As the years progressed and family members had competing obligations, the numbers dwindled. For most of the last few years, it was just Bill and I hosting my parents and his parents.
Then, in an intolerably short period of time, they all died.
Bill was the last of our Christmas remnant to die. And his death was the most unexpected. All our parents were getting well on in years. Bill was still a young man in my eyes. And as difficult as it was losing our parents, the trauma was of a totally different magnitude when I lost him, my partner, the love of my life.
To cope on Christmas Day, I have created my own new tradition. I make a turkey dinner as best as I can since Bill was always the main cook in our household. I follow the stuffing recipe, make my own cranberry and orange sauce, cook the bird following assiduously the instructions in The Joy of Cooking, and carve it according to Martha Stewart’s ingenious suggestions.
The table is set with the good china, the polished silverware, and the crystal wine glasses and water tumblers.
Two place settings.
And I eat alone. I spend the day alone. I am with Bill, alone.
I cannot imagine trying to be social on that day by accepting one of the invitations that are offered to me by solicitous friends or from what remains of my more extended family. I couldn’t tolerate faking a convivial demeanor and I don’t want to be a downer at their table.
And so I do what I have to do. And for me what I have to do to cope without Bill is to be alone on Christmas Day.
That’s my Christmas, for now at least. Deviant for sure. But so is my life these days.
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Information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” is available on my website at http://DavidGHallman.com
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The picture below is of my Christmas table centerpiece. The six white poinsettias are in memory of Bill, my mom and dad, Bill’s parents, and my younger brother who died six months before Bill.