I don’t know how you go on without your son, sweet pea. I only know that you do. And you have. And you will. Cheryl Strayed, “The Obliterated Place”
Jimmy loved Christmas — the lights, the tree, the decorations, his favorite ornaments, the dancing Santa who spins on one leg while Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree plays, the buying of carefully chosen presents for the people he loved most, making and decorating Christmas cookies, the excitement of opening presents on Christmas morning. It was his favorite holiday.
The year Jimmy died, we spent Christmas at home with my mom and our fifth family member, Howard (my husband’s best friend who flew from New Zealand to be with us when Jimmy was diagnosed, when his cancer recurred, when he was dying, when we celebrated his life). It was a pale version of years past but we survived it, managing to continue a few traditions. The following year, with my mother newly deceased and Howard home with his family, was just plain awful. So last year, we fled. We took Buster the Wonder Dog and went to Pismo Beach for a week. There we discovered that being away from the traditions we had with Jimmy and making new ones was doable, less painful and offered moments of joy and happiness.
This year, we traveled to Peru and Ecuador, spending Christmas in the Galapagos with our beloved Howard. The day came and went on our small cruise ship without notice or acknowledgement. More importantly, we were walking on the beach and snorkeling in the ocean, the two places we find most healing.
The reality that we’re running from is that there are no new memories with Jimmy. The traditions he loved so much are hollow without him. It’s the empty chair at Christmas dinner, one less pair of hands to decorate the house, the tree and the Christmas cookies. It’s the missing child I no longer have to chase away from the raw cookie dough. It’s the silence on Christmas Eve without Jimmy’s sweet voice reminding us to watch A Christmas Story together.
The gift now is being together — making new memories, creating new traditions, remembering our amazing son. It’s Dan’s sweet sister, Janet, texting us to say that she and her family were talking about Jimmy and laughing at the memory of being at our house one summer when Jimmy came home from camp. I came down from putting his clothes in the laundry, having discovered that Jimmy had returned from a week long camping trip with five pairs of clean underwear. When asked about it, Jimmy found nothing unusual about having worn the same pair of underwear for six straight days, saying the only reason he changed his initial pair was because the counselor made the boys shower and change their underwear before their parents picked them up. It’s messages from our dear friend, Stephanie, reminding us that Jimmy lives on in so many people’s hearts and memories.
It’s taking Jimmy with us wherever we go, feeling his spirit, looking for penguins (his favorite animal), hearing his favorite Coldplay song in a restaurant in Cusco, looking for him in the star-filled skies over the Galapagos.