Dealing with Grief – The Christmas We Escaped to Disney World
After finishing several articles featuring Disney Holiday Planning, I got to thinking about our own Christmas Trip in 2010. We stayed the week before Christmas and left the day after. This was my families first time to Disney during the holidays, in fact the first time we had travelled somewhere during Christmas Day. But for us it was an escape from the real world. We just couldn’t face a “normal” Christmas after the year we had. The trip was bittersweet but I would like to share it with all our readers in the hopes that someone else can gain from our experience.
In 2009, My son Andrew had turned 2 and just returned from his first trip to Disney. We were glowing in the post-Disney euphoria of a perfect trip. Then we receive the news that my Father-in-Law had been diagnosed with lung cancer. A year followed with ups and downs, forgotten holidays, illness and fear of the unknown. To give us a break, we decided to take another trip to Disney for our sons 3rd birthday. My father-in-law was doing better and although prognosis wasn’t great, we felt he was in better spirits after a tough year. Within a couple of months of that trip we said good-bye to the person I affectionately called FIL.
My Father-In-Law (aka Dad, aka Grandpa) loved Disney. He wasn’t a Disney Addict by any means, but had visited the World many times. He and his wife (aka MIL, aka Grandma, aka Mom) took my husband several times as a young boy. My husband’s fondest memory is riding Space Mountain with his dad, who I can’t believe even went on the ride in the first place. After my husband was grown, FIL and MIL went to Disney a couple more times. Once when his work held a conference there and again for his 70th birthday. For his birthday they stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge and I can just picture him out there with his camera, watching the scene for hours. He loved animals and rode the Kilimanjaro Safari more times than you can imagine. I’m pretty sure it took hours to review all his photos from that trip.
So here we had all taken trips to the most Magical Place on Earth, but never together. We talked about one day going as a whole family after my son came into the picture. My husband and I casually mentioned how much joy Grandpa would get taking our son on the safari rides. I truly believe that the magic of Disney is the smile on your child’s face. The pure joy and innocent happiness that you hope never goes away. My father-in-law enjoyed watching the smile on his grandson’s face and we imagined a vacation together so he could witness it at Disney. We never got that chance.
A few months after my FIL passed, we were talking about Christmas. Both my husband and my Mother-in-law were dreading a holiday without him. We thought about taking a trip to get away, and somehow those thoughts turned to Disney. Everyone was on board and we made our plans to go. We were excited, but apprehensive about this particular trip. Were we doing the right thing? Was it wrong to drag my MIL away during this tough time? Was it wrong to be “celebrating”.
We knew when we landed in Orlando we did the right thing. My MIL came on a separate flight but met us at our gate. I knew all was good after seeing my son run into her arms, seeing the relief on her face. The weeks leading up to the trip had taken a toll on her. Work parties, Christmas Cards, memories had been more than she could handle. Now as a family we could escape it all. The joy in a 3 yr old pulling us through that week.
Surprisingly the magic of Disney touched us all. We did not have to forget about Christmas, just doing it differently. We did Osborne Spectacle of Lights, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and Character Meals. My MIL actually took my son on his first ride down Splash Mountain. I never knew she had it in her!
Yes, there were many moments of sadness. Our day at Animal Kingdom weighed heavily on our hearts. The safari ride was quiet and bittersweet. I so wished then my FIL was with us, have to believe he was. Camera in hand and smile on his face. Christmas morning was another tough day. We went to services at the Contemporary and headed to Epcot for our special meal at Le Cellier. We did Living with the Land, one of his favorites. He was on our minds all day, again as we rode the monorail to Contemporary Resort. He had stayed there with my husband many years ago. Dinner at Chef Mickeys brought the smiles out again. We had made it through the day we dreaded, and we were together.
I wanted my FIL to be there with us more than anything. I wanted to take the pain away for my husband and MIL. I wanted my son to look up at Grandpa as they rode the safari ride together. I couldn’t make it happen. But I knew I did all I could when my MIL said “whoever thought to do this trip, Thank You”.
- Walt Disney World Resort at Holidaytime Unwraps Festive Traditions (chipandco.com)
- Disney World Quick Tips – Christmas in the Magic Kingdom (chipandco.com)