Tuesday, December 16, 2014
The Most Wonderful, and Difficult, Time of the Year
Even when I was a kid, I don't think it was just the toys. It was the family gatherings, especially the big Christmas Eve get together at my great aunt's house where cousins normally spread far afield were all under one roof for an evening. It was magical.
Between the memories of Christmas past and the high expectations set on the holiday by our Norman Rockwell dreams, Christmas is especially hard when your holiday doesn't "measure up." That's especially true when you lose a loved one.
Somehow it feels like the heart goes out of the season.
When my grandma died less than two weeks before the holiday several years ago, it was hard to go through the motions. When my grandpa joined her 11 months later, we didn't even really try and many of those family connections faded just as those on the other side faded when my paternal grandparents died.
Becoming a grandma in my own right brought a lot of that sense of family back. Everyone gathered at my house, my immediate family -- parents, children, son-in-law and a growing number of babies -- plus relatives who had no other plans, to eat together and make memories on Christmas Eve.
Losing my son last year just two days after the anniversary of my beloved Ma Mary's death pretty much knocked the wind out of Christmas again.
The brightly colored lights on the eaves taunted me. The Christmas tree with its promise of wonder held no magic. The gifts I still had planned to buy were never purchased. Had it not been for a big-hearted friend who arrived one day with a box of wrapping paper, I'm not sure the ones I had would have been wrapped.
After Christmas was no better. There were all those memories to pack away. The ornaments with an E and a date on the bottom that I'd bought for Ethan through the years were almost more than I could bear. If it hadn't been for an obliging ice storm, I'm not sure I would have ever got the lights off the house, although they were quickly unplugged. The spruce tree at the corner of the porch, well, let's say it didn't take much to light it up this year since the lights were left hidden in the boughs.
The months rolled around and now the season is here again and I've found that like everything else in my life, Christmas is permanently changed and redefined.
I had trouble getting in the gifting mood, until someone reminded me we were celebrating Christ's birth and that is an occasion worth celebrating no matter where we might find ourselves otherwise. I remembered we give gifts to those we love to honor the ultimate gift of love. But it still took walking in a Christmas parade with all the lights and sounds and shouted greetings before I felt an inkling of what I always took for granted before.
All that said, Christmas is still a little bit dimmer this year. The big lights that hung on the house a year ago are still in their storage tub. Even after I carried them and the ladder to the house I found I wasn't up to the task of hanging them or the more distant idea of taking them down. The tree is decorated with lights and shatter proof balls, and the ornaments so loaded with memories are spending the holiday in the back of the closet. I gave myself permission to do less this year.
Although I've done my shopping (virtually all on-line), there are still no gifts under the tree. I've yet to tackle the challenge of wrapping them all. The menu has been chosen for dinner, but none of the groceries have been bought. Every Christmas card makes me feel guilty, because that's one of the tasks I gave myself permission to omit. I've been unable to tell anyone anything I want, because to be honest what I want most isn't a gift that anyone can give.
Still in a week or so, Christmas will arrive. Little girls eyes will sparkle with magic and excitement. God willing, family tensions will be set aside and we'll celebrate and try not to notice an unshed tear shimmering in someone else's eye because to do so would mean acknowledging the ones in our own.
There will be less laughter and more leftovers and a sense of Ethan's absence that's as glaring as a piece lost from the center of a jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle will still make a picture, but it won't be the same. This year it feels like a big bright piece of a 20-piece puzzle. Next year the puzzle may feel like 50 pieces instead, and the absence will be less noticeable. Maybe in time it will be such a huge puzzle of memories that all those tiny missing pieces will make their own part of the puzzle -- a shadow of what could have been.