We survived our first holiday without Brian. All of us. On Wednesday we had Thanksgiving at Ashley’s. It was good to have all of the cousins together, and Adrianne and Chris, Ashley, Kim, Grandpa Branch, Bill and Janet. Ethne went out with everyone to get Ashley’s Christmas tree and Elliot and I ran errands and then met up at the house for dinner. It was easy for me to pretend that Brian was just in a different room. For so many holidays there, we would just mingle and were rarely in the same room at the same time.
My family came to my house Thanksgiving day. Brian’s absence was much more palpable. Our house is smaller for one, and the void left here without him is immense. I wrote about how our house felt like such a sacred space the last week he was alive. Everyone was here and it felt more like home than it ever had. And once again, its been affirmed to me that Home really is the people, not the walls around you. Because when Brian died, this house became so foreign to me almost immediately. I spent the first several days after he was gone just wandering from room to room like I was in a trance. Like I was looking for something I couldn’t find. It felt so foreign, vacant, unfamiliar.
I’ve spent the last two, almost three (has it been that many?) weeks trying to make our house into a home again. Its been difficult to strike a balance between the overwhelming emotion and keeping his memory strong here.
And these are the lessons grief is teaching me in these first weeks without him. There is active and passive grief. Most of the time, I am so busy with the children that I don’t allow myself to sit with my feelings. I am passively grieving. I go about my days and my symptoms include forgetfulness, did I eat or shower? Aches and pains, sleeplessness, fatigue, and feeling crushed by the weight of all that demands my attention including children, bills, appointments, housework, and my own health.
Then, there are moments scattered throughout each day and night when I am hit out of the blue by bolts of bright, frank grief. During these times of actively grieving, my heart is clutched, my throat burns, and waves of anguish wash over me. These moments come without warning. Loading a movie for the kids, waiting in a check out line, taking the dog outside; there is no rhyme or reason. These are the moments I expected. This is what grief is “supposed” to look like. The passive grieving, the automatic survival mode I spend most of my time in has been the surprise. But this phase is all so brand new to me; I won’t pretend I have it figured out. I am just trying to let the feelings come as they will and be present, which has never been easier. I can’t help but take one hour at a time.
On the way home from Ashley’s the other night Ethne got really upset. She shouted at me from the backseat that she couldn’t remember all of the fun things she and her dad used to do. So we spent the rest of the drive home recounting all of our good memories. We went for a carriage ride with Santa last weekend and Ethne was uncharacteristically quiet. Until Santa asked where her dad was today, if he was working. She said, “my daddy passed away. He had a tumor in his brain.” Santa was very apologetic, how could that detail have slipped his mind? After all, he knew she was four and that she went to preschool and that she has tried her best to be good all year.
I am so continually impressed by my strong, brave girl. She isn’t aware of how uncomfortable death is for everyone because she’s spent the last six months, an eighth of her life, watching her dad decline. We tried to be open with her always. And Brian had brain cancer for her whole life so his illness was her normal. I am so proud of her, but I also understand that this is a heavy weight for her to carry so I am continually looking for ways to help her feel secure.
This holiday season is bound to be intense. We lost two integral parts of our family in a very short span of time, first Grandma Branch, and then Brian. But as Grandpa Branch said to Ashley on the way home the other night, “Thanksgiving wasn’t so bad.”