Christmas, in general is a difficult time of year for me. So many conflicting emotions sparked by memories, both good and bad.
As a child I was terribly torn about Christmas. It came with plenty of gifts, what kid doesn't love those? But it presented a challenge of another kind for me too. Holidays as a child did not include visits with extended family or trips to Grandma's house. No, holidays at my house were just my parents, siblings and myself. My most powerful memories of holidays as a child were trying to find a way to escape notice, stay out of the line of fire, and get through them unscathed. It seemed to me like I was the only kid in the world that looked forward to Janaury 2, so I could go back to school.
Then there were the years I was alone. They were peaceful times, but also very lonely. The only gifts I received were the obligatory Secret Santa gifts from co-workers. I didn't decorate, or put up a tree, or bake cookies, or plan special meals. Within the walls of my apartment, Christmas didn't exist. The best gift I received during those times, was knowing that even though I was alone, I was safe.
Then I met Musicman, we had been dating less then 2 months when our first Christmas rolled around. He took me to his Grandmother's house. Well, he tried, but it was blizzarding out, and his car died half way there. His Dad came and picked us up, quite the way to meet your future father-in-law for the first time.
I remember so clearly, getting to the house, walking in, all noise stopped as dozens of eyes turned to look at me. I didn't want to go in, I wanted to run the other way, as fast and as far as I could. Needless to say, Musicman didn't let me do that, I can still remember his hand on my back, gently pushing me through the door. It was a bit overwhelming, meeting all these people for the first time. It was also the first time I had the chance to see what a normal family holiday was like. I was hooked.
We spent many a year going to his family's home on holidays. They were hectic, but filled with love, warmth and affection. They were the holidays I had dreamed of as a child and thought I'd never have. Our daughter was 8 months old her first Christmas. I didn't want to put up a tree. I thought it was too much work and she wasn't old enough to remember. That was not acceptable to my Father-in-law. He got us a tree and lights and ornaments from his Mother, Musicman's grandmother. When I got home from work, it was all up and decorated. I realized how wrong I had been.
Thirteen years ago, caught up in the hecticness of preparing for Christmas with 2 small children, we received a call that would change not only our lives, but the holidays too. We got the call that the organ Musicman needed to stay alive and healthy was available. We were on the road to the hospital, 2 hours away within a half hour. The next 2 weeks were a blurr of of stress and worry. I worried about Musicman and his recovery, I worried about my kids who weren't with us. They were back home with his family.
He was determined he would be home for Christmas with the kids. Against medical advice, we drove home through a blizzard on Christmas Eve. He was so sick Christmas day, he couldn't get out of bed, but we were home and things were as good as we could make them for our kids. We left the day after Christmas to go back the hospital for another week of treatment before coming home to stay.
The intervening years have been ones of great loss, so many family members are now gone. There is no more going to Grandma's house on Christmas Eve, no more of my father-in-law's homemade egg nog with just the right amount of rum. No more Christmas day at Great Grandma's house surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins. There is no more eating too much, drinking too much and loading overtired kids into a car stuffed too full with presents. I miss it.
We did our best over the years to make our own traditions and give our kids great holiday memories. I think we succeeded, but I'm not sure. I was so looking forward to Christmas last year. I planned to bake, and decorate and get the best presents for everyone. I wanted to start to bring back some of the traditions that death had stolen from us. It didn't work out that way.
Musicman was once again in the hospital, this time at least, it was a hospital close to home. The operation he underwent saved his life and ensured that he would be here with me for many more Christmases to come. But, it wiped out Christmas last year. I just didn't have the time for anything other then caring for him while he recovered. Our kids were old enough to understand, but it still seemed unfair to them.
This year, I didn't have the heart to do Christmas. It just seems like every time I try to get it back on track and plan something special to mark the holidays that something bad happens. I didn't want anything bad to happen, so I've ignored the holidays this year. There is no tree, or decorations. I've not bought a single present, or sent any Christmas cards.
I did find a recipe for egg nog that is similar to the one my father-in-law made. I will be baking Musicman's favorite cookies today. That's all he asked for when we talked about what to do for the holidays. I'll work for a few hours tomorrow morning, but after that, it will just be Musicman and I. We will celebrate quietly, we'll drink some egg nog and eat some cookies and maybe share our favorite memories of Christmases past. When the pain of what we no longer have becomes too much, we'll turn to each other for comfort and be grateful for everything we still do have.