Tuesday, December 28, 2021

It was a Christmas.

I've always been a "Christmas person". Probably because my mom was one. We didn't have much when I was growing up, but we did have strings of lights and hot chocolate mix and an Amy Grant Christmas CD. We had construction paper to make up the bulk of the decorations, and a TV to watch the televised Christmas specials. Mixed with the abundant Buffalo snow, we had everything we needed.

And it's normal, of course, for Christmas to change as you get older. It's changed many times for me. There were years with swapping custody arrangements, years with more or less gifts than others, years in new homes or apartments. And eventually, as an adult it changed entirely. Matt and I created our own traditions when we came together - ones that changed yet again when we had kids to celebrate. Christmas simmer potThat particular change is my favorite one. It's just as fun making the holiday about them as it once was for me. 

And I think we can all agree that Christmas has changed these past couple of years.

For most, last year was Christmas through a screen. We never left the house. We "visited" family through zoom and made the most of a small, quiet holiday. This year, while a lot of normal returned, there was also a lot that felt different. Everyone was pandemic tired. Everyone seemed exhausted, worried, hesitant. Our Christmas Eve plans (that have been steady for the last 11 or so years) took place in a new house. And most notably, we were down a family member. 

I never wrote about it here (busy in my pit of despair), but my Grandpa passed away in September. He is one of my favorite people on the planet. My life has felt overwhelming for a while now - a fact that kept me from sharing as much life as I would have liked to with him in recent years. But it was always a comfort just to know he was over there, stationed at the top of Pekin hill, puttering around the house. Knowing that his mind existed. Knowing that his drawings and corny jokes spilled out of him, knowing that his lighthearted and goofy personality was adding to the social fabric of this world. It all gave me more understanding and belonging than anything else did. To lose him was incredibly heartbreaking and disorienting. 

He pulled me out of the darkest part of my loss himself. A couple weeks after his passing, he came to me in a dream. He was full of light and peace and adventure. Happiness. He brought me to his home and showed me his love for my Grandma. And when I woke, I was still tender hearted and lost, but with a new sense of purpose. I would strive to love my family the way he loved all of us. It was his legacy. And I will never live up to it. Impossible. No one has his light. But I've been striving and determined to try. In thousands of small ways, but in bigger ones, too.

I invited my Grandma over for dinner a couple days before Christmas. We did things as safely as we could (considering the state of the virus currently), and I worked my butt off to make a magical, cozy Christmas setting for her to get away to. We all wore our Christmas pj's, and there were treats and gifts and photos. But my favorite was something small.

My kids and I had studied a lot of history and traditions surrounding the Christmas holiday as part of our homeschool curriculum. We'd recently learned about Christmas crackers and their popularity in Europe, and I found a set of 8 (the perfect amount for our guest list that evening), from the same brand name as the person who had popularized them. Just before we began to eat, we all cracked them open on a count of three, sending little trinkets and tissue paper crowns flying around the room. After marveling at how bizarre some of the gifts inside had been (a shoe horn? a pair of tweezers?? a strange little spring on a key ring???) and donning our flimsy crowns, we all unearthed the jokes inside.

They were bad, corny, silly jokes. The kind my Grandpa loved to share. The kind that would make him do that breathy, no-sound laugh that preceded the loud, belly laugh. As we each took turns reading them out, my Grandma's true laughter filled the air. The exact genuine laugh you'd expect to hear after one of my Grandpa's jokes. With each joke, I got closer to tears. Both because it felt like we'd found a way to bring my Grandpa to the table, and because I didn't realized how conditioned I was to hear my Grandpa's laugh immediately following my Grandma's. It should have been there. It should have come next. He should have been the one telling the jokes, and he should have been there to be delighted by how much we loved the ridiculousness of them. The combination of grief and joy in that moment, happening simultaneously, will leave it ingrained in my memory forever. 

We talked only briefly about the lack of my Grandpa this Christmas. My Grandma told me how sometimes life made no sense without him in it, and how she sometimes catches herself thinking he'll be home any minute. I walked her around the house to show her every spot where I have photos of him hanging, or pieces of his art, so she knows how large a place he takes up in our hearts, too. And ya know, overall, we managed to have a happy night. It wasn't about the loss or the sadness - it was about celebrating what we still had. Though I know, having put myself in her shoes for a moment, that inside she was probably still aching. 

I loaded my Grandma up with a bag of comfort to leave with that night. Some new slippers, the softest kind of blanket, a sweater seemingly made of actual clouds, and a bag of butterfingers (one of her favs). I wanted to wrap her up in things that felt as close to love as possible, though I hope the hugs and I love yous from my boys did the most for her heart. 

When she left, she thanked me for everything and told me how beautiful everything was. The last thing she said was, "God, it was good to get out."

She had told me before how hard it is some days to look around the house that she shared with my Grandpa for so many decades and not get lost in thinking about him. It must be such a conflict of emotion - to feel at home there, where you made all those memories, but also now feel imprisoned by all the reminders. You might think that the instinctual feeling is to be home for Christmas, but how does that change when home can't offer you the same type of Christmas it used to? For years upon years. 

I hadn't spent Christmas with my Grandparents in a long time. We used to, when I was very little. And eventually our family started doing a big Christmas Eve party that my Grandpa only sometimes came to. The last time I remember him being at one was probably 2005 or 2006 (though I Untitleddidn't live here again until 2010 so he may have gone to more). Eventually, my Grandma stopped coming, too, so she could be at home with him. And because of the many many stops we make each year to give my kids the Christmas they have become accustomed to, I was rarely able to see them. So it's not so much that my Grandpa was newly missing from my holiday - it was that the kid in me was over the moon about getting to spend it with my Grandma, and didn't expect how much I'd notice my Grandpa's absence. 

I also didn't expect things to feel so surreal.

We were all incredibly excited to have a togethery kind of Christmas after last year's experience, but I couldn't help but feel a cloud of nervousness hovering over every moment of it. What a strange world to live in - where the people you love could also be unknowingly carrying something that could harm your kids. I tried very hard not to get singularly focused on that, but I couldn't help but think of it constantly. My anxiety disorder rears its ugly head at even the happiest times in my life.

I tried my best to soak in the little things. Another favorite from our holiday: my boys woke up around 6:30. We had to pass some time before my mom arrived, so we decided to let the boys give the gifts they'd purchased themselves. They'd worked so hard! They did chores to earn money and chose things that they knew would mean a lot to each person, and they couldn't wait to hand them out. The looks of pride on their faces and the returning joy from each recipient was so, so sweet. They exchanged genuine thank yous and hugs, and while I kind of wish I'd filmed it now so I could see it all again, I instead sat back and soaked it all in. It was the best gift. In the end, they are my Christmas.

No comments:

Post a Comment