There’s Christmas in December, Christmas in July, and for my wife and I…Christmas in October. Our long-standing annual Garrison Family Christmas Lights Show (www.garrisonchristmaslights.com) requires a lot of work and that work needs to begin no later than October 1st every year to make the magic happen. This year will be different though.
With heavy hearts, we announced last week that the Garrison Family Christmas Lights Show is canceled this year. It was an incredibly difficult decision as we know how many families have made a yearly tradition of coming to the show and we receive so many notes, gifts, and comments on how much joy the show brings. But it just seems impossible to expend the incredible amount of blood, sweat, and tears we put into the Garrison Family Christmas Lights Show when the matriarch of our family, my Mom Bettie, is no longer with us. It’s been a little over 5 months since she left us, but the pain and heartache is still very raw and real. She loved our light show. Her and Dad would drive over and sit through the entire show each year until Mom was no longer able to travel. And when that happened, every year I would send her a list of all of the songs in the show and ask her which ones she wanted to see. Then I’d trek out into the sometimes icy cold night to record those songs just for her. I loved doing that. It was a way for her to feel like she was getting to see the show without being able to leave her bed.
Christmas has always been an over-the-top decorating extravaganza in the Garrison family. Even before I was born, Mom and Dad would decorate the inside and outside of their house full stop. They were even in the newspaper as a “must see” house long before holiday light maps were a thing. Mom LOVED to decorate for holidays in general, but Christmas was her absolute favorite. It seemed like every year there was a whole new set of decorations to match a new theme/color scheme. Of course there were the items that were a staple and were up every year, but she loved switching things up. All of her effort was not wasted on me. I grew up learning to love decorating. Whether it was just standard interior decorating or full holiday decorating, I learned from the very best.
After Mom was bedridden, Nikki and I would go over every year and set up whatever decorations she wanted. It was usually a small tree or two and some of her favorite decorations. We’d even sneak some exterior lights on the house some years when she wasn’t looking. It felt good to bring some holiday cheer to her like she had done for me all those years growing up.
I’ve discussed how much I was woefully unprepared for grief and I’m sure I’m also woefully unprepared for holiday grief. The thought of experiencing the holiday season without Mom is already a tear-jerker. She won’t be there at Christmas Eve dinner. She won’t be there when we open Christmas presents as a family. We won’t get to see her smile as she opens a gift. We won’t get to see her smile even bigger when we open one from her.
So much joy is now lost in time. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever feel the level of joy I felt then. People inexperienced with grief will say it’s possible and that time heals all wounds, but that just feels like an opiate assertion. Time cannot heal these wounds. For even when they feel like maybe, just maybe, they are healing, something like the holidays rips that wound wide open and everything is as raw as the day it happened. Love perseveres and as long as it does, grief will be my closest acquaintance.
I am now beginning to be heartbreakingly familiar with the pain and sorrow those who have experience great loss feel during the holidays. I pray that each of you that are also familiar with this sadness find some sort of light in the holiday darkness - a family member, a friend, or a co-worker that you can spend deep quality time with. Maybe that light is helping others during the holiday season. Maybe it’s carrying on traditions even though your person isn’t here to. Just know that you are not alone. There’s an entire community of people who have experienced loss like you have. Each loss and the way we experience it is different, but the wide range of feelings are universal. We’re all part of club that none of us wanted to be a part of, but that club is sometimes the thing that keeps us going.
This holiday season will look different around our house. There won’t be two months of programming and setting up our light show. No nightly show audio/light check. No street filled with visitors watching the show. The lights that once shone brightly in the darkness replaced with a solemn gratitude for what once was and what still remains - faith, hope, and love.