This is a time of the year filled with joy and hope, but sometimes that is wrapped up with so much more. Eleven years ago, my father in law passed away. I had just put in a batch of Christmas cookies and there was a knock on the door. My parents had come over to tell us that my father in law, who lived in Chicago, had just had a heart attack and was gone. It was only 2 weeks before Christmas. Now, the very joy and the tradition of baking some special Christmas cookies are forever wrapped up with that memory. Fortunately, our oldest was only a year old at the time so he doesn’t remember the year when our Christmas was filled with such intense grief.
Just two years later, my mom asked if I would travel with my not yet one year old to say goodbye to Grandma in Indiana. When our flight landed and we arrived at Grandma’s house, my dad called to let us know that he was on his way out because his mom was also in her last days. Grandma W was in hospice care and still responding by the time we got there. Grandma T was in the end stages of Parkinson’s and had no idea who we were. I learned if I talked to Grandma T in German, she would at least look at me. And I held my little guy up for them to see. There was a slight smile in their eyes. They passed away three days apart from each other with the first funeral being on the anniversary of my father in law’s passing.
I wish I could remember which airline I was flying because it became very important for me to get home to my husband and oldest son and the costumer service agents worked their tails off to make sure it would happen. We were able to fly home on Christmas Eve. When my husband picked me up from the airport, I just fell into his arms. Again, Christmas was wrapped up in grief and we had two children to try to show some joy to. On the drive home I kept looking around at all the lights, feeling like once more, there would be no Christmas for our family. My dear husband just held my hand and drove. As we turned the corner to our street, I saw the lights he had hung while I was gone. He knew I would need that and he was right. There was something so peaceful, so calming, so right.
The following Christmas, we were unemployed. It marked the half way point for what would be a full year of unemployment. Again, it felt like we just wouldn’t have Christmas, but I learned it was the little things. As hard as it was, I put the cookies in the oven, tears spilling at the memories of years gone by. We got a small tree and decorated it, laughing at the boys antics, but crying when their backs were turned. But the day that my man went out and plugged in those lights for me? That was the day I knew that we would be all right. Those lights shone in the darkness when it seemed that nothing else could penetrate.
After that, we felt like we were holding our breath every year. Just waiting for the grief that would hit and it did, but each year, there are just a few less tears and a bit more laughter.
Last year was a busy year for us. We weren’t going to hang the lights because it would just be too much hassle. Then, the week before Christmas, we got the news that the tumor that was found in my mom’s lung was definitely cancer. The prognosis wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. More unknown. So we went through the motions of Christmas feeling like we couldn’t breathe once more. I came home from a rehearsal to find that my husband had hung the lights. When I asked him about it, he said that he figured I would need them. He was right. He’s good like that. (by the way, Mom is doing pretty good right now)
So you see, it doesn’t take a grand gesture to show someone you love them. It doesn’t take an expensive gift. If you are like me, sometimes it is just seeing those lights in the darkness and knowing that through the grief you can find joy.