I had a relapse today…. I ate half a bag of chocolate chips and a tub of tapioca pudding. I wish I could drink. I wish I could just numb the pain with alcohol some days, but I know I have to be present with this shit storm inside. I would much soonerbe a fun stumbling drunk, but getting pissed would only prolong the grief. And I have to parent my children and adult my household.
So instead I fill the hole with crap food. Last night popcorn, today, cheap chocolate chips and sweet, comforting tapioca… a whole bloody damn tub of it. I know what the trigger is….but I just keep prentending it is all good. The lie is back because after all, it is Christmas.
“Ok MOM!!! I’m ready!” Her voice filled with excitement. “Let’s set up the tree!!”
“Ok. Ok ok!!” The basement in my rental is small, and lined with bins for storage. We have too much stuff I think as I sort through the coloured plastics piled up opposite the washer and dryer.
The green and red ones are all our Christmas decorations. There are four of them. Who possibly needs four Christmas bins?!! We have too much stuff I say out loud as if to confirm with my thoughts that we are all on the same page.
I pile three holiday coloured containers at the top of the three stairs leading up to the landing to the tv room. Navigating back the mess of junk I’m hoarding, I reach for the fourth one and instantly stop.
There it is again. That familiar ache in the centre of my chest, and pit of my stomach. The bin is lighter than all the rest and I instantly know why.
This isn’t a Christmas bin.
Slowly, I lift the lid and my stomach turns. Inside, neatly folded are his old scarfs, and tuques. I pick up his old, warn, dark blue Daytona Homes hat. It’s piling on the edges from many washes after a hard days labour as a carpenter. This was my favourite toque on him. I can still see him driving the Daytona van, coffee and cigarette in one hand, the other gripped on the steering wheel, and that proud twinkle in his eye.
Tears are now streaming down my cheeks as I bury my face into the tuque. I swear I can still smell his sweat and calogne in the fabric.
Underneath the scarves and toques are the handmade Christmas Ornaments his sister from Manitoba made in memory of his mom. I touch them gently, and set them aside.
At the very bottom of the bin are two wooden plaques, both for his graduating with distinction and high academic achievement.
My mind wondered to a conversation we had while he was in the hospital when he was manic.
“Ker, I’ve always known something was wrong with me. Why is it that I was so smart in high school and now I can barely remember or focus on building a shelf? Some carpenter I’ve turned out to be.” His hands were vibrating while he took a sip of his coffee. I reached out to steady his hand. “It won’t always be this way. You’re getting help now.” Suddenly his face changed and his eyes glazed over. “This is MS. I’m not mentally ill!” The psychiatrist had to get him a MRI in order to convince him he didn’t have Multiple Sclorisis and the physical symptoms were being caused by the mania.
He was right though. He was highly intelligent.He graduated valedictorian of his highschool. He was a high achiever academically. Which is why i was so surprised he didn’t finish university. He dropped out his first year because of what I now understand to have been his first major depressive episode.
He amazed me some days with the encyclopedia of facts he had stored his brain. I remember many times laughing in astonishment at how smart he was. I wish he had a smart tidbit of information for me right now… a miracle answer for how the kids and I are supposed to get through this.
As I packed the few belongings of his I had left I realized I haven’t been facing the grief. I’ve been thinking through and about the grief work but it dawned on me that I haven’t been able to face it; I haven’t gone through the photo albums that froze our life memories in time forever, I haven’t been able to touch my wedding ring. I haven’t been able to go to where we were married to sit with the grief. I can’t. The thought makes my stomach turn. But I need to. I know this now. I can’t keep avoiding it.
Memories of better Christmas’s filled my head.our first Chinese Christmas spent with my parents and he had to wear boob earmuffs in front of my family! Our first Christmas married we spent in Costa Rica at my best friend’s wedding. Quiet and cozy Christmas’s with his family on the farm laughing and playing card games. The year our daughter was born. And his famous homemade eggnog our son loved which we drank every year the night we put up the tree.
I made my way upstairs with the bins and we put up the tree with Christmas songs blaring in the background. I wish he was here to make us eggnog and to hug us all in front of the tree.
Both of the kids spoke of their father that night after the tree was up. Each of them had separate moments and we cried together. We all felt the void, and we all acknowledged it. Together. We’ll have to continue to face it head on.
In time I will open up the unpacked bins of photo albums and see pictures of the better days. Of happier christmas’s and wellness. The kids and I will sit together and look through our previous life and remember the good. Hopefully when we’re ready we’ll be able to remember fondly and not with so much pain.
After I finished my tub of tapioca, I took one last look at our eclectic Christmas Tree. Hung at the top was the Christmas Ornament I bought him the year after his mom died. The inscription on its tarnished silver heart holds even more meaning now.
“When Someone You Love Becomes A Memory The Memory Becomes A Treasure”