It was a bitter cold December day in Colorado. I’d been a widow for just nine months. I knew I was isolating myself in an attempt to…what? Ease the pain? Hide the pain from others? Sleep through it? Probably all of the above. I had found the Sisters. I had been on two trips and the Christmas Party. That helped more than I could have imagined. But…the long, dark days of winter came and TOW-Wanda went to live in a locked storage area by the airport and my only escape from this huge sense of loss was to crawl under the covers. I couldn’t run away and play with my friends. And, let’s face it…while we can heal in the company of our comrades in tutus, there comes a time when we have to face our greatest challenges alone. And here I was…at the edge of a real depression. I’d been there before. It was a place I didn’t care to visit again. I had to do something. I had to make myself move.
I knew I needed to be around people and get back into the world a little bit. After all, you can’t mattress surf forever. I had lived in a small community on the western slope of Colorado since 1986. I knew there was a good chance I would run into people I knew…supportive, loving people…and I needed hugs. I forced myself out of bed and dressed. I wore Mr. Virgo’s leather bomber jacket…for warmth…for comfort. I drove to town and stopped at all my favorite shops to talk and hug…sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. I decided to stop at the mall on the way home. I often did anything I could to avoid going home to that empty house.
The mall was crowded with last minute shoppers. I parked on the outskirts of the lot and slogged through the slushy, dirty snow. The grey surroundings matched my mood. I started at the Penney’s end and worked my way down. I saw a friend who knew of my loss and offered me hugs and encouragement. I saw a friend who hadn’t heard and I had to tell her. That was always harder because I had to share THEIR loss as well as feel my own. I wandered through shops, totally disinterested in a holiday that had meant so much to my husband and me. It didn’t mean much with him gone.
I finally made my way to the other end where Santa was stationed. I stood to the side and watched as three fresh-faced children looked up in awe at this man in red with the snowy white beard…their faces aglow with wonder. I stood for the longest time, unaware the tears were dripping off my chin. The children finally finished telling Santa their wishes and were given a candy cane as they returned to their proud parents, happily chattering away. I was bereft. I saw nothing but this gaping chasm that had once held my beloved. There was a hole in my heart that I felt would never heal.
Suddenly, I noticed Santa watching me. He tipped his head slightly as he studied me. He was having an internal conversation with himself as he watched this strange woman crying nearby. A moment later, his mind seemingly made up, he scooched to the side of his big velvet chair and patted the seat beside him. I looked to the left and to the right. No one but me. I took a deep breath, walked up to the jolly old elf and sat beside him. Neither of us spoke. My shoulders shook with sobs as I tried to contain myself. Santa rested his arm around my shoulder. When I could finally speak, I leaned towards him and whispered. He leaned in closer in order to hear me.
“I lost my husband. I need a new heart.”
Santa drew me closer and whispered back, “I’m so sorry.”
I continued to weep for only a minute or so and, as is the nature of grief, the moment passed and I soon regained control. I apologized and said I must be a total mess to which he kindly replied, “No…you’re perfect.”
“Will you have your picture taken with me?” Santa asked.
I turned into a wistful child and said, “Can I?”
The elf snapped our photo and when I reached for my wallet to pay, Santa said, “No, this one’s on me.” I smiled and thanked him.
As I rose to leave, Santa leaned in and whispered, “Thank you for stopping to see me today.”
“Thank you for being real!” I whispered back.
That first Christmas was the worst, as the firsts after such a great loss often are. Many of us struggle with the holidays, for whatever reason. “Getting Bolder” isn’t always easy when you’d rather hide under the covers or run away from your problems than to face them head on…especially when Jingle Bells is doing anything but making you feel jolly. I found great strength in a kind man who wore a red suit and offered the simplest of human emotions.
“She traded in her tiara for a trailer and a pickup truck.” Follow Ginny as she navigates her grief journey….one campfire at a time!
Ginny McKinney, Sister #3537
Follow Ginny, Author, Blogger, and Speaker at Marshmallow Ranch
Stay tuned to this spot as we explore the transitions that we encounter in this march through life. I’ll be featuring some amazing women as we discover the myriad ways we Sisters adjust to the changes thrust upon us. I hope you’ll grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell by the fire with me.