‘Please don’t cry,’ I mumbled. ‘It’s a tree. It’s just a tree.’ And then it happened, full blown tears.’: Mom realizes teenage daughter’s meltdown was triggered by loss of father, ‘No matter how many presents I buy, nothing can heal her pain’

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“You ever have one of those days? You know – those days. Nothing goes right. In fact, everything goes so wrong that it’s practically comical by the end of it. Of course, there’s nothing funny when you’re in the middle of it but looking back – you know if you don’t find the humor in it, you’re either going to stress eat, drink too much, shop or move out.

I don’t know what’s going on with my teenager nowadays, but she’s emotional about everything. Every-thing. Christmas movies. Bad jokes. Commercials. Me breathing wrong. Not having the exact right food coloring for her annual Thanksgiving turkey cake. Which is precisely why, at one point on turkey day, I hid in the pantry and stuffed mini marshmallows in my mouth so I wouldn’t dare say the wrong thing.

Courtesy of Diana Register

But tonight, oh yes, tonight, well it’s a doosey. I mean, the day started off ok. She worked all day. I did stuff around the house. In fact, I got it all clean so the family could go to a nice dinner and then we could go buy a Christmas tree. Easy right?

No. Her skin is breaking out. Enough said.

Well, actually, that’s just the beginning of it. A tube of concealer later, we made it to the restaurant. A beautiful one. Great ambiance. I didn’t even mind that the server had to give us a play by play of every single thing she was doing and how she clenched her fists and chanted in front of the oven for the pizza to ‘cook, cook, cook!’ My diet coke was frosty, my salad was tasty, the bread was crispy and all was right in the world. That was, until I, in my infinite wisdom, innocently brought up a topic that I had no idea would wage World War 3 between my daughter and her boyfriend, right there in the middle of our little Italian paradise. I ducked, I dodged, I tried to mediate. I thought I was making sense, but I was only making it worse. I should have stopped talking. I should have stopped thinking, honestly. I should have had a frontal lobotomy at the table. I take full responsibility for this one, folks, and as tears formed in both their eyes, I motioned for the server to bring me a glass of wine. At first, I just sipped it. Afterall, I’m a classy broad, you know. I held the stem like I’m supposed to and darted my eyes left to right listening to them like I was watching Wimbledon. It didn’t take long until I was gulping that nectar of the God’s like a glass of iced water on a hot summer day letting it drip down my chin onto my shirt wondering what had happened to my perfectly planned night out.

Speaking of God’s, my boyfriend and son were noticeably quiet while my daughter and her boyfriend interrupted each other to prove their points. Either they didn’t want to get involved, or they quickly noticed that I was trying to get drunk on eight ounces of cabernet. I’m pretty sure the waitress didn’t offer me another glass because she wanted us gone, and I have never seen a grown man eat a plate of chicken parmigiana so fast in my life. Apparently my boyfriend, who will now forever be known as ‘Saint Jon,’ also sees the benefit of stuffing an ungodly amount of food in your mouth so that you can’t talk. I don’t know how it all calmed down, but it did. Maybe it was because I couldn’t find my credit card to pay the bill, even after looking through my purse 27 times. Maybe everybody panicked and figured we would have to wash dishes, or maybe it was because I had to send one of the teenagers out to my car to find it there. Who knows, but the bill was paid, leftovers were boxed up and off we went to the Christmas tree lot because dammit, we weren’t going to let the night go to waste, right?

It didn’t matter that it was 40 degrees out and the kids weren’t dressed for a wind chill. No, that part was ok. The dust was settled. Until she saw it. The perfect 7-foot Christmas tree that there was no way I was paying $195.00 for. Not only that, but thanks to three unruly dogs, the tree has to go on a table because I’ll be dammed if I am picking up a knocked over tree and ornaments every day for the next two weeks. Bah Humbug, I don’t care. Well, I might not have cared, but when we finally picked the right size tree, I looked to my right and there she was. Standing still in the middle of the tree lot, her face scrunched up, drawing in a deep breath. Oh for the love of all that’s Holy, she’s going to cry again. Please don’t cry, I mumbled under my frozen breath. It’s a tree. It’s just a tree.

And then it happened, full blown tears. ‘It’s a Charlie Brown tree,’ she shrieked. Her jacketless boyfriend ran to her side to console her. I rolled my eyes and wished I had indulged in a second glass of vino. Saint Jon carried the tree to the cashier. They threw it in the backseat.

By the time we got home in two separate cars, I was sure that the drama had passed. They came in the front. We came in through the back. It was quiet-ish. The tree was placed. It looks fine for the most part and I’m confident that once the sugar plum fairies do their business, she will be happy with it. Everything was leveling out. Except the tree, of course, that is a little bit crooked. I sat down in the recliner. I pet the dog. I inappropriately giggled at the night’s events. I thought the worst had passed.

Courtesy of Diana Register

And it had, until my son came downstairs and handed me my Christmas present. A super cute pair of cushy slippers that came via Amazon that same day. I furrowed my eyebrows together, confused as to why he was giving them to me now, until he explained that his big dog somehow got out of the kennel while we were gone and ate through the box and then decided my gift was a chew toy. It’s ok, I thought. If that’s all that happened, we’re good. On a side note, they’re at Walmart as I write this buying a vacuum to clean up the dog food that it all over the carpet in his room, and a new X-Box cord.

But hey, at least she stopped crying right? Yeah, for like 3.5 minutes. Because, while my son is corralling his dog, and I am holding my half-eaten slipper, she walked past the damn tree again and cue the tears. Dog barking. Running in circles. Kid crying. Could it get any worse?

Why, yes, yes it could. Because just when I was about to lose what was left of my sanity, she blurted out the words. Ten words I didn’t expect to come out of her mouth – ‘My dad would have never bought a Charlie Brown tree.’

And right then and there, the room stopped, and everything started moving in slow motion. This was not teenage angst? It wasn’t the actions of a girl not getting what she wanted?

No. It was grief. It was grief throwing up all over everything. Because three years ago her dad, who always made everything perfect, died. In front of her. While she held his hand and watched. And I’ve been running in circles ever since trying to make it right for her. Yet, no matter how many presents I buy, or ornaments I hang, or ‘Merry Christmases’ I say to her, nothing can make it right. Nothing can heal her pain. Nothing can dull what she feels. The only thing I could think to do was let her put her dad’s ornament up, which seemed to calm her for a moment. I don’t know if it was the ornament that did it, or the fact that I acknowledged what she was feeling without trying to tell her she was wrong, because she isn’t wrong.

Courtesy of Diana Register

Our grief comes out in all sorts of ways. Mine comes out in talking. Hers came out in irritability. We all process it differently. We all get through it in the ways that work for us, that might not make sense to anybody else. And, what I learned from all of this, is that her grief comes out in ways very differently than mine. That Christmas tree was her trigger. It isn’t a trigger for me, but that doesn’t mean that what hurts her is wrong. Just like whatever triggers it for you isn’t wrong. It doesn’t make sense to her yet. And maybe it doesn’t make sense to you, either. Maybe it never will. But what I do know, is that it’s normal. And it’s ok. And that’s what I plan on telling her. Just as soon as I finish eating my much-needed chocolate cake.

PS:  The tree is trimmed. She’s still not loving it, but she’s not crying anymore, either. I would say that’s a win in a life of big loss. Sometimes, we just need enough wins to build up before we stop getting lost in all the triggers. At least, that’s what I think anyway.”

Courtesy of Diana Register

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her book “Grief Life” is available in print and kindle. You can find more of her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.

Read more powerful stories from Diana:

‘When I was a little girl, we knew if mom came home with chocolate cake, we better shut up. We all knew what cake meant. Something had not gone right, and Momma was NOT happy.’

‘Do I need to separate you two?,’ the flight attendant asked. Wait. WHAT? I looked up from my magazine, confused. My kid sniffled. ‘Nothing gets better at 30,000 feet,’ she continued.’

‘I saw this picture of my teen daughter and her boyfriend. I cringed. I yelled. I demanded she take it off social media.’: ‘Infuriated’ mom changes her mind after she recalls ‘young love’ with her late husband

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