A couple of weeks ago, I decided to have one of our favorite home videos converted to a DVD to give to my dad and my sister for Christmas. I picked it up last week when it was ready and couldn’t wait to watch it later that night while my husband was at work.
I popped it into the DVD player and got cozy on the couch with my pups. I hit “play” and was instantly transported back in time.
At the time, I was almost three years old and my sister was almost four. My dad filmed us as we excitedly danced around to music playing on our Sesame Street record player and my mom prepared for our annual Christmas Eve party. We were in the finished basement of my first childhood home, which I don’t remember much because we only lived there until I was five or so.
I smiled as my mom welcomed various family members to our Christmas Eve party. I thought about how different everyone looks now and how different life looks now. I watched for several more minutes as more family members arrived and I realized how many of them are no longer with us.
Suddenly, another thought jumped out at me. Something that should have been blatantly obvious, but for some reason it wasn’t.
“Oh, my mom is now one of those people who is no longer with us.”
As much as I loved being able to see my first childhood home and relive my beautiful memories there, I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of fresh grief that came with watching this home video. I wasn’t ready for the flood of tears that came with seeing my “old” mom and hearing her voice, a voice I had almost completely forgotten.
I’m not sure why I wasn’t expecting it. Looking through old photos and watching home videos are two things sure to trigger grief and tears, but still, I wasn’t expecting it.
I have been surprised at how I’ve been feeling mostly okay amidst this first holiday season without my mom. I have thought about it long and hard and even written about it here.
I think it’s because the last few Christmases my mom was alive were so damn hard that this year pales in comparison. The last few years I struggled so much to enjoy Christmas because although my mom was still alive, she was suffering tremendously. My mom couldn’t spend Christmas with our family the way she always had. She couldn’t enjoy it so neither could I.
This year, she is no longer suffering and I finally feel like I can enjoy Christmas again. I have even been excited about it. But watching that home video reminded me of how fragile grief is. It can be triggered at any moment.
Suddenly, I was not okay anymore. I was not excited about Christmas anymore. In fact, I spent the entire next day sobbing uncontrollably, off and on.
Watching that home video was like watching another little girl in another lifetime. A little girl who never even considered the thought that she would lose her mom one day, let alone that she would lose her repeatedly over thousands of days.
A different girl.
A different mom.
A completely different life.
Watching that home video was a stark reminder of what I have lost.
But also of what I had in the first place.
For that girl, for that mom, for that life — I am grateful.
And it’s perfectly okay to not be okay for a while.