Just 15 short days after she died it was Christmas, a day meant to fill the heart with hope and peace. Mine was frozen.
On the Christmas day service of that first Christmas without her, the four of us – me, mom, dad and brother – sat in our usual church pew near my favorite statue of Mary next to the emergency exit door that taunted and teased me as a means of escape. But there was nowhere to go.
I don’t remember much about that mass. I know they said Emily’s name out loud as one of the recently deceased. I know I wanted to run from the bench and punch out the entire choir when they sang “Away in a Manger” as part of their selection of carols. Upon hearing the first note, my chest grew heavy and I eyed my parents nervously. Both swiped at tears building in their eyes. Not that song, please, not that song. “Away in a Manger” was one of the songs my parents had requested at Emily’s funeral mass less than two weeks prior.
Those past 15 days, I’d become weary, worried and tense whenever I saw my parents cry. Especially my dad. At age 11, I was rocked with the sudden reality that this sadness and loss had affected all of us and my parents were not immune to the suffering. We were all vulnerable. We were all hurting. But it’s something else when you see your dad cry.
As the years passed, Christmas was just another ho-hum holiday to me, more “hum” in my heart that “ho-ho-ho”. The stillness of the sad crept in around December 10 and hovered until the New Year before departing, just to come back the year after and the year after.
But 23 years laters, this Christmas is going to be different.
I was given a directive to “embrace Christmas”. Love the season. Bring back the peace, the hope, the joy.
I admit I’ll protest against a few challenges, but this one sunk like a stone in my soul. In my being, I know that I have to change and find a lightness of heart, a happiness that was never there before or, more likely, was buried a long, long, long time ago.
I didn’t object about putting up the tree and decorations. I didn’t imply that maybe it was just too much work and not worth it. That was a big outward change that did not go unnoticed by my husband as he’s the only one who has to listen to my groans every year.
All other shifts to a new awakening are happening with me:
My heart is thawing.
I’m figuring out what happiness looks like.
I want to be hopeful about so many things.
I think there are many reasons to be joyful.
The first Christmas without her it started with a small tree and an angel ornament or two. Of course, she also had her own stocking that hung on the mantle between mine and my brother’s. Every year, a new angel ornament would be tucked in her stocking to add to the tree. The tree grew. Now, it’s a 6′ plus tree filled with angels and reminders that Emily is always with us.
The loss is always greater on the darkest days of the year, but within that dark there is a light that shines still.
I wish you, dear Reader, the light and love of this holiday season. Happy Christmas from a reforming Scrooge.