This holiday season is much harder than last year. My dad died in October 2012, so we really didn’t do anything for Hanukkah or New Years Eve last year.
Even though we don’t celebrate Christmas, our family had many traditions during the holidays. Most of them taking place in Wilmington, Del., a place I have thought of as my second home since I was a child. My grandmother lived in Wilmington. She died on July 27, 2013.
Last year I drove down for Christmas from Canada with my husband and my son. It was the first time I saw my grandma since my dad died. It was a very difficult trip emotionally for me, but I was thankful for the time I got to spend with her. I think what makes this year so much harder than last year is knowing that I’ll never be down there again at Christmas. The days of driving down to Wilmington to see my Grandma are over.
We always spent every vacation at my grandparents, driving down there 3 or 4 times a year when were small children. My dad always did all the driving, the full 10 hours, and he was big on making, “good time.” Good time meant no unnecessary bathroom breaks, pits stops or shopping excursions. We would stop 3 times for the same amount of time at the same places to get us into Wilmington within a 10 hour time frame.
My dad wouldn’t let us listen to any rock music in the car, but his favorite easy listening stations mixed with Frank Sinatra and Perry Como tapes. My sister and I would each bring our Walkman and headphones along with a large supply of batteries!
When we finally arrived at my grandparents, my sister and I would always fight over who got to hug grandma first. She sat on the side of the car closest to the house, and would invariably win. The first hug from grandma, the first step into her house was so special. She wore the same perfume all the time, and her house always smelled good. I can’t describe it, I can only say it made you feel like you were home. This was still the same last year when I visited her.
My grandmother always told me that she wanted me to think of her house as my second home. She wanted me to feel comfortable there, and that I was always welcome any time I wanted to come visit. She was the quintessential grandma. She was exactly what you think of when you think of the grandmother that cooks and bakes, takes you to special places, and most importantly gives her grandchildren many, many hugs and kisses.
My grandmother was the most important person in my life, and during the years she was sometimes my only cheerleader. She was always there when I needed her.
I spent every single Christmas vacation at my grandma’s house, or with her, until I was 26. I went to college in Allentown, Pa., an hour and a half from Wilmington. My mom would have me fly home for a week, and DRIVE back down with them to Wilmington for the annual Christmas visit. When I was 26, I was unable to get the holidays off work, so began the years when I started spending the holidays up here in Canada.
At first, I was so excited to stay home. I was tired of traveling down in the car with my parents like a child, and forced to spend New Year’s Eve with them and not my friends. I hated sleeping in my mom’s old squeaky, and hard-as-a-rock bed at my grandma’s. The room was also sweltering, because my grandma had issues with the heat over blowing through the vent in that room. There was also sharing the bathroom with my dad, and the limited TV situation at grandma’s.
My grandma didn’t have cable TV. She got four fuzzy channels on her televisions, and that was it. Did I mention the TV in the kitchen was a 13-inch black-and-white TV? When we were kids, my sister and I used to beg my grandparents to get cable. I remembering asking her to please could she just get it for the two weeks we were visiting, and then she could get rid of it. Her response was to sweetly tell me, “I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works, Honey.”
She was finally forced to get cable when the digital switchover happened. She was 95 years old. When I came to visit her, only once a year now, my husband and I stayed in a nearby hotel. She did not appreciate the irony of the situation.
What I wouldn’t give for another Christmas holiday down at grandma’s. I’d love to be in the backseat driving down with my parents, listening to my mom yell at my dad for his driving. I’d happily listen to my parents sing some goofy songs together in the front seat. My dad could rush me at our pit stops as much as he wanted.
I’d love to arrive at my grandma’s one more time and hug her tight, smelling the comforting smell of her perfume and house. I’d love to wake up the next morning after the drive, and walk down the hallway to hear my dad snoring in his bed, and my mom and grandma in the kitchen talking softly over coffee, with the door closed.
I would love to be “trapped” in the house on Christmas Day, with only my sweltering bedroom to go to for privacy. I’d give anything to spend New Year’s Eve with all of them again, sitting around the fuzzy TV waiting the ball to drop.
I know there are new traditions to make, but right now I’d like to hold on to the old ones in my heart for just a little longer.
Pam Swartz lives near Toronto, Canada, with her husband, Neil and son, DJ. She works part time with her husband on his website, is an aspiring writer and full time mom. Her experiences with grief and loss have changed her in many ways.