Yesterday morning found me, for the first time I believe in my life, in a hotel room for Christmas. No decorations, no Christmas smells, no eggnog, no fa-la-la-la-la. I knew when we made the plan to sell our house in North Carolina, build the barndominium (our builder’s label) in Tennessee, and hit the road in Petunia, that Christmas would be an adjustment. It is usually my jam! I start singing Christmas carols constantly right after Thanksgiving when MW (Mr. Wonderful) lifts the moratorium. At the beginning of our relationship, we made an agreement, and a ban on Christmas songs until we actually get to the Christmas “season” is a part of that. (Thanks to excited retailers, I think I have a good argument for starting in September now, though!) The deal also says that I will not decorate for all holidays, and he will not complain about the Christmas decorations, which typically go up around November 1 and stay until the first week of January. Not this year.
For the past several years we have had the joy of children in the house on Christmas morning. The stage was all set in the library where Santa left his bounty around our memory tree (filled with ornaments from life events…births, places we’ve been, accomplishments). Our daughter and her two Boogers would come down the stairs shaking with excitement, and screams of joy ensued. (One year Santa’s reindeer were still in the front yard when they came down, but disappeared quickly. They just missed the old guy!) There is just nothing like having children around on Christmas Day. What fun! Not this year.
I am a cold-weather person, and this is usually my happiest time of year. I know that there are many people who suffer from seasonal depression when the days grow shorter, the air grows colder, and the winter grey sets in. For me, though, I have always felt lighter during this time. It’s like my December mission is to sing in the grocery store, share good conversations with strangers, give where it is needed, and spread light and joy if I can. Not this year.
In 1990, Grandma Harrison died suddenly (the first grandparent to go), Mom had cancer, and I had cancer. Since then, in my mind that has been the suckiest year of my life. Not that other years did not have loss or challenges, but that year it felt like, as soon as I got off the floor from one bad thing, another thing knocked me down. In the end, though, both Mom and I were okay, so I guess I haven’t looked at that in the right perspective. The year of our Lord 2019 has seen my family hit with sudden loss on multiple occasions, and frankly, it’s been hard to find the light. I’ve been reeling a bit, trying to regain balance, working hard to shake off the sadness and, once again, join in the Christmas celebration. Not this year.
So yesterday found us in a hotel room in Seattle. We are here because, once again something totally unexpected has knocked us on our butts. MW’s bonus Dad is losing his brief battle with cancer in hospice care. We arrived on Christmas Eve, and are spending the next week visiting when we can and trying to be of use. It is HARD to watch someone who has always been smiling, robust, and gregarious wither a little more each day. I find myself wrapping all of the year’s loss into this week. It SUCKS! Happiness has not been on the agenda. Not this year.
BUT…as hard as this is, sitting here my mind keeps wandering in a different direction. Isn’t this a real, true Christmas? A celebration of the coming of Jesus. The promise of a glorious new home on the horizon. The gift of a child that changed the world. While those of us left behind will suffer the loss, he will win BIG. “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” That’s my favorite line from It’s A Wonderful Life. A bell will ring for Buddy soon, and I believe it will be his glorious day.
Selfishly, none of us want to see him go. Buddy is truly loved by many, and he will leave gaping holes in a lot of hearts. There will be much sadness as we gather to celebrate his wonderful life, tell our stories, laugh, and cry. In the aftermath, we will all retreat to our separate lives, and our own grief. I’m praying, though, that I will just come to think of him as a Christmas gift of sorts. A reminder of God’s promise. Right now it’s a very dark time, but I know I will quit welling up with tears soon. I know there are lights, music, and laughter in the distance, albeit a long way off. Next year, for sure!