My view of the world through words & photos
Santa comes to our house first.
I’m not bragging, this is just the way it has always been. No matter where we lived, our presents arrived on Christmas Eve at some point after dinner so we could open them that night.
For me, being busy with a project, visiting with friends or family, and reading helps keep me from dwelling on what I don’t have. It’s not an issue of avoidance – I know that Bill is dead and what the consequences are for me; doing these things helps me from falling into that pit of depression and despair.
Believe me, being surrounded by my kids and my nephews seems to ensure that I won’t be falling into the pit. They obviously know that their dad and their uncle, respectively, is no longer with us, but they are geared to living more in the moment. Living in the moment with kids is a gift.
Christmas traditions are grounding. One of the first things we do when we get to my folks’ home is to pull out the Legos and some games my brother, sister and I played with when we were kids. The games are for our kids now. Or so we say. In less than a day, you will find at least one adult down on the floor with the kids building something out of Legos, or taking their turn on Bumper Shot, or one of the other games from our childhood.
There’s something about a board game. Electronic games may have more colors, sounds and animation, but board games seem to lend themselves to conversation. And human contact is something I crave right now.
My folks’ home has plenty of room for all of us but, like most families, we tend to gather in the kitchen more often than not. Breakfast and lunch are typically make-your-own, when-you’re-hungry situations, while dinner is a time to gather around the table for a meal together. While we get our meals together, we share stories – stories about our childhood, stories about our current lives and stories about our kids. When everyone comments on how good the meals are, I think the special ingredient that makes the meal so good is the love, laughter, history and fun that’s added during its preparation.
As I mentioned, Santa comes to our house first, so at some point after dinner the kids usually hear Santa’s bells and rush into the living room to see if they can catch him leaving presents. Several years ago, we decided to focus more on a smaller number of gifts that mean more for the recipient, and to take time to see what everyone else receives. This way, present time isn’t over in five minutes, and we have a chance to enjoy each other a little more.
For most of my life, I’ve also gone to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. There is something so beautiful and almost magical about celebrating Our Lord’s birth in the middle of the night. For the last 20 years, Bill has been at my side during Midnight Mass. While I was looking forward to being home with my family for my favorite holiday, I was not looking forward to being at Midnight Mass by myself. I was so happy when my son said he would join me at Midnight Mass this year (he had joined Bill and me last year for the first time).
The choir at my parent’s church shares a selection of songs and music prior to Mass. Under normal conditions this presentation has brought tears to my eyes as the beauty and passion of the time heighten my emotions. Since these are not normal times, I packed my purse with tissues and one of Bill’s handkerchiefs. I have found that I can hold it together if I’m serving as a music minister, but get emotional if I am a member of the congregation. Interestingly, while I welled up several times (and hit a few sour notes as I tried to regain control), the memories of so many years attending this Mass with Bill came back and made me very happy.
The hardest part of Mass for me right now is when we say the Our Father. Our home parish has a practice of holding hands with your family and friends during the prayer. It is so painful to have an outstretched hand that isn’t filled with Bill’s hand. The Lord knew this and provided me with my son on one side and a stranger on my other side. As the prayer began, this young man to my right simply took my hand in his and held firmly throughout the prayer. I don’t know if holding the hand of whomever is next to him at Mass during the Our Father is his normal practice or not. What I do know is that I didn’t feel that overwhelming sense of loss on Christmas Eve. I am so grateful for that small gesture from a stranger.
So I survived my first Christmas without Bill. There were many, many moments when tears fell and I had to stop whatever I was doing and regain control. I spent more time than normal escaping into books. There were several hours that passed without having accomplished much if anything. But I survived.
I know my family made accommodations to help me get through this first Christmas without Bill, and I love them even more because of it. They shared stories, memories, a special toast, and lots of hugs. And I thank God for all of it.