Memories of Christmas Season 2008

Christopher Nyerges
[Nyerges is the author of several books. This article is an extract from his book, “Til Death Do Us Part?: Lessons that Death Taught Us,” available from Kindle or as a pdf from the Store at]

In the days after my wife Dolores died, I still spent my evenings with Nami and Fikret and Nellie (the little dog that Dolores boarded), cooking dinner, sharing dinner, talking over television. Both Nami and Fikret were living in rooms in the front part of the duplex. Nami was from Tokyo, working at a Japanese firm in downtown Los Angeles while she earned her CPA license. Fikret was a student from Germany who’d be going home in a few days.

That December was dark, pressing, my mind a constricted box of sorrow and loss.

A close friend had earlier suggested to Dolores that she take Nami and Fikret to see the annual Griffith Park festival of lights, and Dolores had mentioned it to Fikret. I brought it up to Fikret and he wanted to go. I think he was more concerned about me getting out and “getting normal” than he was about seeing some electric light display. Anyway, he arranged with Nami to go one evening after Nami got home from work, and I drove.

I had never seen the light show either, and though I was in no mood for “joy,” I wanted Nami and Fikret to feel happiness, and the joy of the American Christmas season that the youth can best appreciate.

My mental state was very constrictive, narrow, even subdued horror. It was as if I’d been hit in the face with a 2×4, and I could not see beyond my shocked pain. But I tried, with great effort, to “enjoy” an evening out with Nami and Fikret as best I could. It was the weekend after Dolores died. Nami got home early from work, and it was already dark. Fikret made a very light meal – more of a snack – for everyone before we drove off to Griffith Park in my Jeep. I was preoccupied with now living a life turned upside-down, with no perception of light at the end of my tunnel.

Fikret and Nami were noticeably happy, upbeat, and they seemed to be happy to be doing something with me. Fikret had come on a few field trips with, but I’d only gone out rarely with Nami. I know they were both fully cognizant of my pain and I think they were being happy because they wanted me to be happy. To me, the lights of Griffith Park were a very minor attraction.

As we drove, we spoke about their day, and other light matters. I always enjoyed talking with Nami over dinner about what sort of day she had at work, and what new English words she learned. We drove into the large expansive parking lot east of the Los Angeles Zoo, and drove around until we saw where to park for the festival of lights. People parked their cars, and then boarded buses which set sail every 15 minutes or so, or until the buses were full. The three of us were the first to enter a bus, so we got the seats we wanted. A few adults filed in, and then a whole group of school children came in and filled the bus. The driver turned off the lights, and we were off down the two miles or so of the electric light display.

The children spontaneously sang Christmas carols at the tops of their voices. Nami and Fikret tried to follow along: Jingle Bells, Rudolph, Silent Night, all the classics. Mostly, the children sang enthusiastically and loud with lots of laughter for the first verse until the song faded as the children didn’t know the words. After loud laughter, another song would begin.

I could tell they were all having great fun, though I was barely there. I had to shut off most of my painful feelings and emotions and turn on only that part of me that was needed for ordinary interactions with others. I was glad that there was so much happiness in the world.

I was in a darkness of my own, alone, as if I was severely and suddenly cut off from all that was important to me. Which was, in fact, what happened. After the light show, we returned to the Jeep, and I drove on in a stupor. I asked Nami and Fikret if they wanted to see more Christmas lights, and they said yes. Christmas Tree Lane was impressive, but monotonous to me. Nami and Fikret just said “Oohh,” and “Ahhh,” and “Look at those, wow!” I tried to explain the history of Christmas Tree Lane, how I grew up just around the corner, and I drove by our family home on North Los Robles.

I didn’t want to go home quite yet. “Going home” would mean that I would go back home alone, would sit there for awhile listening to music or watching TV, feeling the full grief of losing Dolores, by myself. It meant I would go to sleep with my grief, unable to find solace in music or TV. I would turn off the TV and music, and in the darkness I would fall into my abyss of sorrow until I awoke the next day. No, I didn’t want to go home yet.

I told Nami and Fikret that I knew of another Christmas light display and we drove across town looking for it. We never found it, but they got a tour of East Pasadena and Sierra Madre before we stopped for some snacks and finally went home.

We then went into the front kitchen when we got home, and enjoyed some cookies and coffee. We all laughed together and we watched a little bit of a Christmas movie on TV. It was a good evening overall, but it would be a long time before I could feel joy again.

That was six years ago this December. Life goes on. I learned to love again, and I realized that one does not want to “forget,” as we often hear. For me, it was a truly unique and special time to assist one in their final days. It made me feel the value of each day, of each breath, of each moment. And somehow, that death became a permanent way in which I commemorate the onset of the Christmas Season, which is all about a New Life.

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