It’s become very obvious to me that I have truly bled all over this page, cried my tears and generally let my ugly grief show.
It must be so, because when I run into people who read my words here, and particularly those who don’t see me very often in real life, there seems to be a universal reaction. One of compassion and warm hugs. Both of which are delicious.
Then I’ll usually hear a comment about how tough I’ve been doing, or how difficult things have been.
And, genuinely, I’m surprised. Perhaps I’ve been kidding myself, but I have been feeling like I’ve been doing ok with loss. I have been finding my way to tread water between the initial overwhelming waves of grief. Those waves have all but disappeared, and they have subsided instead to those gorgeous little waves that just keep you bobbing up and down. Just to remind you that you are still in the water and in the ebb and flow of life.
Maybe I have poured so much of myself out here, that sometimes I have forgotten just how raw it all was.
For anyone who has been worried, truly, I’m been making peace with the loss of my Mum. She’s fine. In fact, I know she’s more than fine. She is buzzing and full of light, and free of the torment of the human condition. Who am I to complain about that for her? I mean, really.
But there has been one last place where my grief kept showing up. In what felt like the most unlikely of places. The shopping centre.
Food shopping has been fine. A necessity of life that I have been able to do almost exlusively at my local IGA for a while now.
But shopping. Real shopping, at a shopping centre, or even worse a plaza, has been almost impossible. Which means that I just haven’t been able to get into the Christmas shopping thing.
As I reflect, it was a combination of reactions in me.
Initially, it was all about the noise and how bright those places are, seemingly teeming with people. Just too much of everything.
Then there was the sudden reality of life and death showing up in such stark contrast to the seemingly inane and meaningless purchases being made all around.
And the final straw was always when I saw a customer who reminded me of Mum, and more specifically the health issues she had struggled with.
The last one happened about a week ago now. I saw a larger older lady, moving herself slowly through the store using a walker. The lower parts of her legs were inflamed, with a nasty looking sore in the middle of one of her shins. All of those pieces were part of Mum’s experience.
When I saw this shopper, I had an undeniable and barely manageable physical reaction. I felt like the blood began to drain from my body, leaving me void from the head down. I thought I was going to simultaneously fall down to the ground and begin vomiting. I could feel my heart racing, and I needed desperately to find a corner to lean in, hide in, recover in.
That day, on yet another purported Christmas shopping trip, I did all that I could do. I stood upright. I focused on my breath, slowed my breathing and walked as calmly as I could to my car, and drove away. Without any gifts.
All the while I have been watching the calendar days tick away one by one, taking me closer and closer to Christmas Day.
If something didn’t change, there was a real possibility that come Christmas morning, the only thing that was going to be found under our tree on Christmas Day were these gorgeous ones.
But instead of the grins, there would be tears and disappointment.
Quite literally, no matter how many times I tried, I did not have even one present. None.
And like all things grief, after spending months completely unable to shop for anything other than necessities, today, for no explainable reason, it was different.
Today, once again, I tried to get some Christmas shopping underway. There are less than 2 weeks to go, and frankly I was getting a little worried.
Somehow, for some reason, it felt different today. I was still feeling reasonably disengaged from the intensity and the urgency of the shoppers around me. But it no longer felt like I was being subjected to a grotesque display of people who were failing to care about life and death and dying.
Instead, I was able to stand beside them, and behind them, in queues, and quietly wait my turn.
With my first purchase, the shop assistant asked me if I wanted the final multi pack they had. “It’s just $10 more”. That multipack contained the exact same item that I was planning on buying to go with the gift anyway. And I had budgeted at least $50 for it.
That felt like a fresh cool breeze on a hot afternoon.
My next purchase involved a 40% off the second item special. With 4 children that can loosely fit into the 2 younger and 2 older category, that resulted in me being able to buy all 4, for less than the 2 items that I had initially thought I could afford.
Finally, with some small steps, and some lovely moments that felt like permission, Christmas shopping is underway.
And while I pleased about the shopping. That my children will not be disappointed beyond measure on Christmas Day. I’m so much more relieved that I feel one step closer to my own next chapter.
The chapter of my life that contains the simple line “My Mum died”, and then proceeds to explore the stories that come next.
And so, just in time, I’m finally feeling it.
The little flutters of excitement that it’s Christmas time.
It will be ok.
I will be ok.
I am ok.
The very best Christmas gift of all.