Holidays: The Reason to Learn about Non-Attachment

November 21, 2009

My Good Ol' Pop

Last night my husband and I were sitting in Midori, our neighborhood’s Japanese restaurant, when the subject of Thanksgiving came up.  It’s this Thursday, of course, and I have been trying not to think about it.  So, we were sitting there waiting for our food and I just started crying.  I didn’t blubber or draw the attention of other diners, but the thought that my Daddy won’t be there at Thanksgiving dinner just sucked the happy right out of me.  Pop won’t be there.  Neither will Dick’s parents, Truman and LaVerne.  Last year Thanksgiving and Christmas barely happened because LaVerne died just before Thanksgiving and Truman died just before Christmas… and so did my Uncle Gary.  And then, on New Year’s Day I learned that Pop’s doctor suspected he had pancreatic cancer.  He did, and 7 gruelling months later he was gone.

Last holiday was a dying season.  This year I am bewildered.  Honestly, I didn’t think about my Dad every day when he was alive and well, so it was always nice to know I’d see him on holidays.  This year I keep forgetting he won’t be there, and when I remember it stabs me.  Dick doesn’t get to worked up about it.  He is good at not thinking about things. But I’m really bad at not thinking about things.  I think that’s good if I think about them in the right way.  In the past few months I’m learning about just being with my thoughts, being with things as they happen.  When you have so many losses so close together you lose the ability to ignore them, really.  I did anyway.  So I was already on the road to mindfulness in some areas of my life.  I had no choice but to be with my father dying.  Running away made it hurt so much more when it came barrelling back at me, hitting me right in the solar plexus. 

That’s not exactly true.  I immersed myself in my work.  I buried myself in there so that from 8 to 5… oh, who am I kidding?  I worked from 8 to 7 during those months, and went to bed almost as soon as I got home and swallowed a glass or two of wine.  I graduated from white  sweet wines to heavy reds.  It was such a healthy time.  I just shoved my head into and under my work.  I didn’t get to know my co-workers other than as co-workers.   I didn’t chat.  I worked.  I stayed in my office when I could and stayed with the animals when I could.  So now that the hard part is behind me, I’m getting to know my co-workers, filling out the other parts of my job.  The harder parts.  The parts where people have good and bad qualities and my interpersonal skills leave something to be desired.  Where people get irritated with me, and I with them.  Where things sometimes move so fast it’s hard to be here now.  It’s hard to be here yesterday sometimes. 

Dick got a letter from Trinity Mother Francis hospital where his mother died last November 17.  They wanted him to know that he could come and visit with one of the nuns if things got too tough.  That was nice, but his response was sort of like mine.  What on Earth could a nun do to help?  Platitudes and scriptures?  The nun that was in the room when his mom was disconnected from life support was sort of like a German ghost… a floating apparition with bad timing.  She came to put her arm around me… ME!… just after LaVerne died, when I just wanted to melt into the woodwork.  She didn’t know I was a heathen.  I seem to be pretty good at hiding that, so I didn’t scare her.  I’m just bad at hiding my emotions.   She zeroed right in on my inner hysterics. 

When Truman died a month later I was unbelievably unpleasant.  A chaplain was in the hospice room with us … the room where Truman had just died and was lying on the bed surrounded by us.  She stood on the side of the room joking with my ashen-faced brother-in-law.  It wasn’t my father, but he’d been my father-in-law for 22 years.  I wanted her to leave and just let us have a family moment.  My brother-in-law and his wife seemed to be enjoying her company, so I kept my mouth shut.  My husband didn’t seem to mind and probably was happy for the distraction.  I was about to scream, so I slipped out of the room and went down to the waiting room at the end of the hall.  It was empty so I just paced and tried to stuff my feelings.  I hadn’t begun my zen practice then.  Only a few moments passed before the chaplain, who was kind, I’m sure, came and asked me if I needed anything from her.  No, I said, I was okay.  She wanted to pray with me.  I really didn’t want that.  I either wanted to be alone or alone with the family.  She asked me what I needed.  I told her.  She misunderstood and said she would ask the rest of the family to leave the room so I could say goodbye.  So I just told her more clearly.  I want to be with them… it’s you that is out of place.  I can’t remember how I worded it.  I remember that she looked slightly stricken.  I just know she responded politely and left us.  I felt like a complete and total jerk. 

Every year since we’ve been married we’ve juggled visits to see both of our families over the holidays.  For several years now we’ve just brought both sides together into one big gala. It has always been so nice to just be with everyone at the holidays.  This year three of our four parents are gone.  It will be an adjustment.  It will be a time to learn about letting go of attachments.  It will be a time to just be here with whoever else is here, I guess.    

I’m not exactly sure how to do this holiday season. 

We bought fudge.  The really soft kind you should really eat with a spoon. 

But really, I’m not sure how to do the holidays this year.

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