I would be lying if I didn't say that the Holidays have almost always been difficult for me. Don't get me wrong, my Grandparents (and my Aunt and Uncle) spoiled me no matter what time of year it was.. But Christmas became complicated as soon as I was old enough to really understand my emotions. My Grandpa had his stroke just before Christmas, so my Grandma spent that Christmas with him in the hospital. I was with him when he had his stroke, so that alone is a difficult memory. But that year, my mom came to spend Christmas with me. It's the only Christmas that I remember her being in my life, although I'm sure there were a couple more. As sad as I was over Grandpa, I was overjoyed to have my mom. I remember putting out the milk and cookies for Santa with her and then deciding to remove the grate from the fireplace because I was scared that Santa would be injured coming down the chimney. We had so much fun. We were like a normal mother and daughter that Christmas Eve. My Christmas wish that year was, as always, for my mom to get her life together. But it was only a matter of days later that I awoke in the morning to find that mom had gone, leaving no trace of where she was going.. And leaving me.
Each Christmas that followed was bittersweet. No matter how old I got, I always hoped to see her on that day. I hoped she would at least call. I hoped she would send a card. Even as a teenager, I felt like the same kid waiting by the window for my mom to come. Eventually I was old enough to realize that she was never coming back and I can't say that it made the Holidays any easier, although it made them less disappointing.
Throughout my 20's, I finally began to enjoy the Holidays. Sam and I put up a tree every year and we would always visit my family on Christmas morning and his family later that night. There was one Christmas that we were snowed in and I had been in charge of making dessert, so we celebrated the holiday by eating a whole lot of pie. We were together for almost 9 years but in July of 2012, our tumultuous relationship came to an end. My dad had died only days before. Once again, I was dreading the holidays. I had moved back into my Grandparents house and was feeling like a complete failure. I was trying to mend my friendship with Sam. He was my very best friend, above all. I hoped that after being together for almost a decade, we would always be able to be friends. I never imagined my life without him in it, even when I knew we couldn't be together.
I was terrified of celebrating my first Christmas without him. My Grandmas health wasn't well. She put up a tree, just for me. Looking back in photos, she was so weak and in a lot of pain and yet she always put on a smile for me. She tried so hard to make sure that Christmas would be okay for me, but none of us could have prepared for what was to come.
On December 14, 2012, I was driving past Beaver Lake to go to a party. I got a text message and when I came to the stop light beside Ingles grocery store, I read it. "Blair please call me." It was from Sam's best friend. I hadn't responded to the first message yet so he had already sent the second one. I will never forget that message.. It was the worst moment of my life. It seemed impossible. It seemed like a nightmare. Sam couldn't be dead. I thought, he's just being manipulative and trying to scare me.. But deep inside, my heart sank as I knew how great of a struggle Sam was having with his mental state. I pulled into the Ingles parking lot and called my Grandma. I told her to please call Sam's parents. I was hysterical. Those next two minutes were the longest of my life. I stared down at my phone, at that message, hoping I would wake up any minute. Instead, the phone rang and I answered to hear the worst sound I have ever heard in my life. My Grandma wasn't just crying.. At first, no sound came out of her mouth, and then I kept yelling "please tell me it's not true." She didn't have to respond, and she couldn't. My Grandma, a woman who I had seen cry only a few times in my life, a woman who endured pain beyond belief and still didn't cry... Screamed. She screamed and cried at the same time. She couldn't even speak. I hung up the phone to call Christina, who left her nannying job to rush to come get me. I remember sitting in that parking lot and wondering if I could possibly die of pain. That may sound stupid to someone who hasn't endured a loss in such a way, but I felt like I was going to die. Like my heart was just going to stop. When Christina got there, she held me in that parking lot. I was absolutely hysterical and I don't remember anything else except her pulling up at my Grandmas house. Christina stayed with me until late that night.
After she left, I went out to the family room where Grandma was on the couch. I sat down beside her and started bawling. I was in shock and disbelief and I know she was too but she pulled me toward her the way only a mother can and she held me so tightly. Then she told me to get in her lap and I remember saying "Grandma! I'm too big for that!" She said, "You will ALWAYS be my baby." She held me and she kept telling me that we were going to get through it.
A few days later, at his funeral, she held me the same way, during a time when I truly couldn't even hold myself up. I planned to be strong for his funeral but seeing his casket was heartbreaking beyond words. Next to the casket was a canvas with a picture I had lovingly taken of Rocco and Sam at Sam Knob in the Pisgah National Forrest. I gave Sam that canvas after Rocco died. It was on our wall for years as a constant reminder of the love we had with Rocco. I never imagined I would see that canvas next to Sam's casket - although I must admit that it represented him better than anything ever could have.
That Christmas, I tried to smile and pretend that I believed I would get through it. But I didn't want to get through it. I wanted to give up. But Grandma was right, we did get through it. Through it, but not over it. I don't know if I would have gotten through it without her. Sam's death was beyond difficult for everyone who loved him. When someone dies at an old age, you can at least say that they lived a long life. When someone dies before they've turned 30, you don't just mourn for them but for the life that they didn't get to live.
The Holidays will always be hard for me. Am I grateful for the family and friends that I have? Absolutely. But there are some things that you carry with you forever.
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