A New Christmas

December 27, 2000

Christmas has come and gone again. This year marked a decided change in my approach to this most difficult and wondrous of holidays.

Losing my sister on this day 27 years ago has scarred the day forever. In the past Christmas was a time to pick at the old scab and reopen the wound. My family doesn't discuss this at all so the whole season has a repressed feeling of anger, sadness and hurt about it.

The last two years my wife and I have lived apart from the rest of my family and I was able to avoid their portion of the Christmas malaise. However, I wasn't able to enjoy the season. I came to the realization that I had to accept responsibility for my part of this family tragedy.

In the past couple of years I have done tremendous work in letting go of the quilt, sorrow, and anger I've had about Amy's death. I felt guilty since I had lived and she had not. I was only 12 when she died and therefore I wasn't able to separate out the complex emotions that her dying created within me. For most of the past 27 years I have felt that I should have been the one to die. She was better in school than I. She would have made my parents prouder. All the silly sounding little things that a kid would feel. Left unchecked these thoughts built into a survivor's quilt that crippled me in my dealings with my family.

I was sorrowful for obvious reasons. My sister had died and left me. I lost my playmate, my friend. I could see the hurt and sorrow this loss visited upon my family, my brother and my parents. I wanted to protect them from ever being that sad again. I tried to modify who I was and how I behaved so as not to upset them at all. Since these modifications weren't my truth, and since they didn't work anyway, I had been living a lie for many years. I was saddened by who I had become and how I was living. The despair was so great that I nearly ended it all just to get away from the pain.

I was angry at her for dying, and for dying on Christmas. As an adult I know she didn't do this deliberately, but the little boy who was so lost and alone in the days and months that followed her death didn't know and couldn't understand. This childish anger was left unchecked and over the years it developed into a toxic, corrosive emotion within me.

Into this miserable thicket of darkness, fear, hurt, and anger came a ray of sunshine, the woman who is now my beautiful wife. She heard the pain in my voice and honored the process of grief that my inner child had to complete. Through her love she gave me a safe place to fall. A place where I could come apart at the seams and empty the enormous vat of emotions that I had carefully stored all these years. She never stopped me or judged me in what I was doing. She just loved me and held me through the terrible venting my soul needed to heal.

I was able to cry tears of sorrow and rage. I vented all the feelings that and been compressed inside me for so long. The process was brutally hard and often left me shattered and empty. My fear was that all I was and all I could be was contained in these feelings. If I opened myself up and let go of all these feelings what would I have left? Who would I be? Would I lose myself once and for all in the maelstrom I was unleashing?

I have discovered that when you let go of the anger, sorrow and guilt you recover. You get back the emotions of elation, love, and belonging that were hidden by the hotter emotions. I am now able to think of my sister and remember fondly the things we shared. I am at peace with her passing. I still morn her loss, but I can also celebrate the joy and laughter that was our time together.

This year I was able to honor her and my need for Christmas in a way that I've never done before. The holiday was no longer a sham of happiness. I felt like I was finally free to have fun and joy.

I owe so much to my wife. She has supported me throughout this process. I know from being her safe place to fall that the hardest thing in the world to do is stand by while your soul-mate is agonizing through a difficult lesson. The urge to step in and shoulder the burden for them is overpowering. I have also discovered that the true power of love is being the solid, unshakeable rock they stand upon while fighting their demons. I am truly privileged to be the rock for my Michele. And I am honored that she chooses to be the rock for me.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.