Thursday, December 17, 2009

Decorating for the Season of Life

Today is the first anniversary of Susan’s passing. I have vivid memories of the weeks and months leading up to the moment she took her last breath. I look at the weeks and months since then with wonder and amazement - I don’t remember ever experiencing such a roller coaster of thoughts and feelings as I have in the past 365 days. And when I ponder the whole experience over the last six years, I’m astounded. It’s been an extraordinary ride – and it’s not even over.

I’ve decided to decorate our Christmas tree as part of my observance of the day. In our long life together, I was always responsible for getting the tree up, getting it straight, and doing the lights. Susan always did the decorating. She had a flare for it and knew the story behind each ornament that came from family members or those we had purchased in some Christmas store in our travels. The decorating part was always a little tedious for me (we’ve collected a LOT of ornaments. Besides, we all know it needed to be done right!) Last year, our good friend (the other) Susan helped us hastily decorate the tree in the days immediately after Susan’s death. It felt like it needed to be done. This year I will do it in honor of her, even though I don’t have the flare and I won’t know all the stories. But I do know her story. It feels like the right thing to do.

Just a few weeks ago I was ambivalent about decorating at all. I was approaching this cold, dark season with a sort of gloomy demeanor. All I wanted to do was to get through this “year of firsts” and get to spring as quickly as possible. But somewhere between our anniversary on November 18th and Thanksgiving on November 26th, a little switch flipped in my head. I can’t explain it. The only trigger I can think of was Patrick saying “let’s put up the decorations”. A little voice in me said “of course”, and that was that. No hesitation about it – let’s put up the decorations. We got the outdoor lights in place and hauled up the indoor stuff. But we didn’t get around to doing the indoor things before Patrick returned to Bozeman to finish out the last seminar of his (final) semester. I’ve been both procrastinating and too busy to do it before now.

I’ve been thinking about what I might do today for some time. I decided weeks ago that I’d take the day off. I consulted with friends about how to make my observance meaningful. There is of course, no “right” way to do this other than what feels right to each of us as individuals working through our own process. But most people I talked to agreed that doing something deliberate, perhaps with a sense of ritual, would be important. I’ll talk with Jon and Patrick, re-read what I’ve written about this experience, review all the cards and mementos that have been waiting for me to revisit, light a few special candles, and play some favorite music. And, I’m going to do what Susan might do if she were here. I’m going to decorate the Christmas tree.

The significance of that little switch that flipped in my head is about much more than the Christmas decorations. It now feels like I can move on in my grieving process with less sadness about our loss and more focus on what Susan has meant to me; with less incredulity at what has happened and more awareness of how I have grown from the experience; with more appreciation for what we have successfully endured and less apprehension about when I will ever find unbridled joy again. I’ve already begun reaching out to build new relationships. I have a sense of hope and excitement about the future. It feels good. It feels like I’m decorating for the next season in my life. And the voice inside my head is saying "of course".