We survived our first holiday season without Trey.
As Halloween approached, we elected to not make the costumes we had all been talking about as a family. Then we elected to not make costumes at all, but to buy. Mr.K finally decided to just wear last year’s costume, which was the moment I realized that he was not as excited about the holiday as he wanted to be. We had several parties plus trick-or-treating. Each Halloween event began jovially, but ended with K feeling sad, removing his costume, and secluding himself. He says he may not dress up next year.
Mr.H made a Thanksgiving project at school – a poster on which we all were to write what makes us feel thankful. We all wrote something about family, but I felt dishonest because our family is missing a piece.
Tension built in the days leading up to Christmas, as Mr.K grew more and more insistent that Santa could bring his dad back. He would not be disabused of it. The whole thing terrorized me that he would wake on Christmas morning and fall to pieces because his wish had not come true. Thankfully, on Christmas morning he accepted what I am sure he already knew — that this was not possible. We had a lovely day, but partway through it Mr.H got really upset about a gift he though his dad would have gotten him. I hurt for him so much. After a snowball fight in the yard, Mr.K laid this one on me: “It’s sad that dad couldn’t be here for this. That’s what’s so bad about when people die. They miss out on all these things. I mean, Dad is never going to have another Christmas. I don’t even have to get very old — just 41 — and I will have more Christmases than he did.”
New Year’s Eve arrived, with nobody to kiss.
Close on the heels of New Year’s was Trey’s 42nd birthday. It also would have been our 19th wedding anniversary. Even though I was certain gravity had doubled due to the heaviness of my entire body, I managed to bulldoze us through that final day of the Wilson Family Holiday Season. We enjoyed breakfast at the pancake place he used to take us. We honored his memory by once again visiting the root beer store. Mr.H and I cooked a birthday cake for Trey. Mr.K, who originally suggested the cake, found himself unable to move forward with it. We didn’t sing “Happy Birthday.” We baked the cake, iced it and ate it. K joined us for the eating part, and we didn’t talk about why we had cake.
Everybody is extremely sympathetic toward me right now. I appreciate this. I am fortunate to have so many people in my life who care about me and who are thoughtful enough to realize how difficult the holidays are.
The first holidays, in particular.
For every first holiday, however, there are countless smaller firsts. Innumerable times my heart protests that the last time we did this, he was with us. At the beginning of widowhood, these firsts are a daily assault:
The first time I put the kids to bed and came downstairs to nobody.
The first time I made dinner for just the three of us, knowing he would not return.
The first time I went grocery shopping without buying his favorite staples.
I watched a TV show we always watched together.
I picked up listening to the rest of the audoibook we were sharing.
I went to bed.
I woke up.
I rented movies.
I cleaned the kitchen.
I hung up clothes in the closet.
Everything in my life was something I was doing for the first time since he died.
After a while, the basics of living had run through a couple of cycles. No longer was each day a constant chorus of “this is the first time . . . ” The firsts continued to batter me, however.
The first time I took them to a movie just the three of us, I couldn’t figure out what to do when I had to use the bathroom — make them both come with me, or leave them in the theater while I went?
The first time I took them to get the Slushies Trey always got them, I managed to get Slushie all over the place. I could not get the hang of filling the cups the right amount before causing major overflows. In some cases, the stuff keeps expanding after you stop pouring, turning your cup into a volcano science experiment smelling of blue raspberry. I’d had no clue it was that complicated.
The first time we went to one of their school parties without Trey was the Neon Glow Party. It was just a week after he died, but we’d been talking about it for weeks. The neon party is always eighties themed, and I’d said we needed to all dress up like the eighties. Trey had responded, “So you’ll just be wearing your regular clothes, then?” He had a point. Looking back, I can’t believe we made it to the party. I was still in such a fog, and didn’t want to disappoint the kids who still wanted to go. They were dancing their butts off, and I was glad to have brought them. I just kept thinking it would be okay as long as we avoided the photo booth. Of course then K really wanted to do the photo booth. So we did it. And we got the pictures. The same pictures we get every year, but with Trey conspicuously missing. K deflated and wanted to go home. We went home.
The first time we played our favorite four-player video game with just the three of us, we realized one of us would have to log in as Trey in order to keep our game progress. As uncomfortable as it was, I logged in as him. It’s commonplace for me to do that now.
The first time the three of us went on a road trip together, I wondered if it was safe. How can a woman and kids drive over the state border and get a hotel room and be safe? I’d never traveled without a man.
We went to our first soccer game, and to our first hockey game. Without their dad.
These small activities that we find ourselves in, that remind us that Trey was here last time, they are growing more and more infrequent. Maybe there will come a point when there are no more.
The final kind of first I will address is the worst, as the frequency of it will keep growing at least for a few years. Instead of protesting that we did this last time, my heart screams that Trey never had a chance to do this with us, to witness this event. These milestones and first experiences will always be accompanied by my ghost of him, seeing his reactions inside my mind.
I joined the kids on their first airplane ride. They had never heard the safety speech before, and K paid careful, solemn attention to the flight attendant. They delightedly opened the tray tables, exclaiming, “Hey, look at this! A little table!” Trey never got to experience this with him. I could almost feel his laughter.
Harry hit his first baseball. Then stood at the plate, not knowing what came next. At the urging of his coaches he ran toward first base. Still carrying his bat. The coaches yelled at him to drop the bat, so he ran back to home plate to put the bat down, and then back to third. Trey would have told me that only my kid would be doing this sort of classic move.
Korben played goalie for the first time. Trey never got a chance to see his son so enthusiastically cheering on his team mates even when they were not near his goal. He never got to see Korben save a goal.
He won’t be there for their first girlfriends, their first school dances, their first day of every grade, their first kids, first auditions/tryouts for various activities, first play or first academic bowl or first recital or whatever we have in the future — these firsts will keep coming.