I’m thinking of converting to Jehovah’s Witness, not for any religious reason. I just don’t want to celebrate holidays anymore. I realize I could just not celebrate holidays, sure. Maybe I need one of those mind blasters from Men In Black instead.
See, grief is like a ninja. It’s hiding quietly in the trees waiting to pounce on your head. Just when I think I’ve gotten everything under control and things seem to be moving along swimmingly, Ba-bam! Ninja on my head.
Of course, if I look at things a bit more closely I can sense the grief coming.
I just returned from vacation, which is rather exhausting really. All the sun and water activities and the long drive, even just being out of our regular schedule can tire me out. But I’ve been so tired, both on the trip and even after returning home. I actually wondered is it allergies, a cold, mono? So tired. Probably just adjusting to being back home. I’ve got all kinds of paperwork to catch up on and I’ll be teaching a summer camp for the next two weeks. Cats to vets, kids to dentists, counseling appointments made and missed, a workshop, housework, cleaning, sorting. Ok so, there are reasons to be tired, maybe irritable. No ninjas, just life.
But the ninja got Sarah first. This is our first 4th of July not in the “big house”, our family house. Last July 4th we all thought about it. The house was already under contract then. We still had our party, but we knew it was our last one. We allowed the ninja to go hide in the trees.
The big house sits atop a hillside that overlooks the Roanoke valley. It has a breathtaking view throughout the seasons. Summer nights the valley looks like a bowl of city lights, winter snows that pull the branches of evergreens to the earth, fall leaves alive with golds and oranges, fog so heavy that the city below disappears until the fog washes back over the mountains, angry storms and colorful sunsets. The wall of windows in the family room was a constantly changing work of art. But of all these, the fireworks at the Fourth of July were the most impressive.
The big house is perfectly positioned for optimal viewing of the fireworks. This was the one holiday that the Pressley Trowell family had an annual party. Kids with sparklers, grilled meat, cold beer, fresh blueberries, popsicles, friends of mine, friends of Chris’s. And when it got dark, spectacular views of Roanoke’s firework display. We were close enough to hear the “boom” echo across the valley in air conditioned comfort. The lights of each explosion would light up our faces behind those windows. People would gather in the street below our house, sit on their cars, advance into our driveway. Our location was enviable that one day of the year for sure.
Last year July 4th was just a few short months after Chris’s death. I was still trying to find my footing on what seemed to be very infirm earth. Having the party in the nearly empty house seemed like a way to buoy myself to the past, feel a bit less adrift in the sea of grief. But I knew it would be the last time. The last party. In the long list of things to sort through emotionally, it got shuffled to the future, until yesterday.
S was crying and emotional. The outward cause was a very heavy rainstorm that threatened flash flooding. The deluge seemed to mock us as we headed to our weekly family counseling session, only to subside once we arrived at the therapist’s office. We had a frustrating session that highlighted our family’s continued dysfunction and overall inability to participate in a cooperative game of Jenga.
S’s sobbing resurfaced as we drove home, the storm picked up again. When we arrived I sat with Sarah in the car for a few minutes trying to uncover the deeper source of her sadness. Then it came, the real flood.
” What are we going to do on the fourth this year? ” she asked
“I want to go home.” She said
And finally I realized she’s been asking for a week to go home. She doesn’t mean the just right house, she means the big house. She wants to go back.
Pounce. Ninjas. Pounce.
I carried her inside.
Crap. Why can’t a holiday that’s mostly meant to give people some time off in the middle of the summer just be another day? Why can’t it be just a day when my biggest worry needs to be if I have purchased enough charcoal, if the beer is cold enough, that I’ve gotten enough free range organic hot dogs. No…this stupid day has to provoke an emotional thunderstorm, a week long exhaustion that masquerades around as allergies, a long to do list. This otherwise random day serves as a reminder that I am the keeper of a stew of emotions, mine and my girls. Life is not what it was, life is something new and unfamiliar.
This idea that I could just not plan our fourth is the insanity I keep trying to make work. Maybe the ninjas will get bored with us, take a day off, climb down from their perches, have a beer with everyone else. Still doesn’t work, didn’t work on Easter, won’t work on the Fourth of July, probably won’t work on Arbor Day either.
So we have to figure this out, can’t be paralyzed by a simple decision of where to watch fireworks. S, in all her tiny wisdom, suggested we come up with a new tradition. This new tradition will be the special thing we do. We have the right to start over. Take that ninjas.