Much as I theoretically love the Christmas season, past Decembers have often been hard - sickness and depression and polluted skies and exhaustion. This year we haven't been sick too much, the air is clear, and thanks to modern medicine, my depression is improving.
This year nothing feels right.
Grief pierces unexpected moments in the midst of ordinary life.
Decorating trees and
viewing lights and
– loss –
and singing songs and
baking cookies and
– loss -
joy and grief
and heaviness and
– loss –
We went to my parents’ house to help them decorate because there is nothing like the excitement of children to make these things feel worthwhile. We hung all of Anna’s personal ornaments collected since childhood. They blended in amid all the others, just like always.
Then mom pulled out the stockings. We each have personalized stockings my mom made over the years for children, sons-in-laws, grandchildren, cousins and grand-cousins. This year we finally have ours shipped from China. All of the stockings are together at last!
She looked at Anna’s stocking and stopped. “What do we do with this? We can’t not put it up.” For 32 years, that stocking hung on the mantle with the rest of the family’s. So many years ago mom carefully stitched the name “Anna” in sequins.
In that moment, the wrongness of it all broke through again. How do we have this stocking that Anna will never again open? She can’t just be gone. How does someone just cease to exist on earth? It shouldn’t be this way.
As I strung the tree with lights, the girls exclaimed over the ornaments. Juliana said, “Hey look at this funny ornament!” She was holding up the ridiculous brocolli-as-a-Christmas-tree picture that Anna once found in a magazine when we were kids. We both thought it was so funny that she made it into an ornament for me.
Every year for many years I asked for a harp for Christmas even though I knew I wouldn’t get it. One year Anna worked with my grandfather in his workshop to make me a “harp” from wood and guitar strings. She knew what I really wanted and her six year old self tried to make it come true.
As children we would say, “Christmas is two months away!” and then, “Christmas is two weeks away!! Remember when it was still two months away?” and we laid in bed at night talking about how slowly time moved.
We paged through the giant Sears catalog and decided which toys we wanted most. We searched for the hidden stash of presents (usually in mom’s closet) and argue over who was getting which toy.
I remember standing at the top of the stairs, waiting for the “okay” to come down and see the Christmas tree. Anna had kept her secret for so long she just couldn’t handle it any more and told me what my present was.
We missed a lot of adult Christmases during our years in China, but when we were there, she worked to make it special for the girls. She put up a tree in their room and bought – or made! - matching Christmas jammies.
I celebrated 21 Christmases with Anna. All of my memories of Christmas with my family are wrapped up with her.
When we visited Santa at Bass Pro Shop the day after Thanksgiving (I did not think that through), I really wanted to text Anna.
“We are stuck in line behind this very talkative lady who doesn’t believe in the vaccine and thinks the hospitals are getting paid to fake virus cases and it’s all a conspiracy by the Chinese government and oh my gosh it’s been 30 minutes of this!!”
“Juliana is totally (nicely) giving it back and challenging everything this lady says with, “but actually…” and I am so proud of my child right now.”
“Now she is saying something about paying on your phone as a sign of the end of times??”
And Anna would have texted back about how people are stupid and Juliana is awesome and also WTF?? I can predict almost exactly how she would have responded.
This year I decided to make Christmas cookies for ALL the people. Somehow the list morphed into 34 people/families/groups. It’s one of those decisions I made when I wasn’t thinking so clearly, and I wonder, “WHY did I chose this year of all years?”
Some days I enjoy mixing up cookie dough and doing all the Christmas things. I am actually happy, plugging in the Christmas tree lights every day and sitting by the fire. I feel energized watching the girls' Christmas performance.
Other days, I feel like I am dying. I am so emotionally exhausted that my body hurts. I wonder how I will be able to press through all the way through Christmas. I wonder why I am putting all my energy into making cookies while the laundry piles up, the dining table has been practically inaccessible, and I’ve resorted to “I don’t know, just find something” dinner.
I guess I need to expect the unpredictable ups and downs. I try to save some energy for those days I feel like death. I try to give myself grace in this year instead of guilt over not doing all the things. Sometimes I am successful.
I just wish I had Anna to say, "Yeah, I don't know what you were thinking. Did you make some that are allergy friendly? Gluten free? Vegan? Nut free? That's important. And did you make some for me? 😀"