Tag Archives: Christmas

I never thought it was a bad little tree

Christmas Is Coming by Vince Guaraldi

Over the weekend I ran a piece on Rene Syler’s site – Good Enough Mother that informed the world that yes, I had managed to toss out one of the hundreds of “traditions” that my wife had brought to our family.

You see, my wife loooooved to celebrate St. Nicholas Day, which basically involved putting confections into smelly kids’ shoes.  My wife, you see, loved her traditions she just didn’t want to be the one who actually did the work for them.  That’s not me being mean, it’s just reality.

But this weekend we did another one . . . one that seems more like our own than one that involved Andrea.

Indian Rock Tree Farm
Indian Rock Tree Farm

Some years ago, when stumbling through the Sierra foothills looking for a tree farm to buy a fresh-cut Christmas tree, we happened upon this small, family-run tree farm.  We’d bought a really nice tree, they treated us very well, and the kids had a lot of fun.  We hadn’t gone back, though.  Of all the traditions that my wife loved to keep she never really kept up the idea that we go to the same places or frequent the same spots.  We had to have the family traditions from her upbringing – even if they made me absolutely freaking crazy.

So last year, when we needed a tree and I didn’t want to use the artificial one that we’d been using for so long since the Indian Rock Tree Farm in the Sierras trip, I decided to go back to one of my family traditions.  I remember, years ago when I was a kid, going out to my grandparents’ old farm, where a massive couple shelterbelts stood sentry on either side of the road into the lot.  I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6, but we went in, had hot chocolate in a thermos, trudged in the snow, and took turns sawing down a tree for the house.  We sang O Christmas Tree and danced around and had just a great, memorable time.

So last year I took to the internet and found the place we’d cut the tree those years ago.  It was time to start our own traditions again.  I did again today.

The Indian Rock Tree Farm isn’t a huge place, it’s really a small little family run place.  There’s a fire in an old barrel, candy canes for the kids, and it’s just beautiful.  As you get out of the car you can smell the pine . . . it’s nestled between two peaks and you see nothing but trees and smell the air.  It’s the closest to the Black Hills of South Dakota anyplace has come for me.

The kids...at the tree farm
The kids…at the tree farm

This year we found a tree in record time.  It was a little crisp, our breath snaking out in wisps as we walked.  Abbi looked at me and – as she has every time it gets cold, in a routine we’d developed when she was a tiny girl – goes “I’m a dragon!” and blew the steam upward.  Last year there were arguments, and the stress of being in the holidays made it hard to find a tree.  The loss still weighed a little heavy on us.  But this year . . . the tree just appeared and we all agreed.  It was maybe 10 minutes and we had it!

Waiting by the fire
Waiting by the fire

We waited by the fire as they bundled up the tree and smiled.  We Cleaned up the area for the tree at home.  Then, as the day turned to night, I made some cookies and hot chocolate and we started decorating.  I put on Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas record, another tradition of mine, and Sam decided to wear the lights as we tested them making us all giggle.  We all marveled at pictures of the kids as they were tiny in the ornaments.  We reminisced about the ornaments that we’d all gotten as gifts: a crystal angel that my Grandma gave Abbi.  Another one – a snowflake – given to me and Andrea during our first year together by my Grandma as well.  It felt, by leaps and bounds, like it was Christmas.

Sam being silly
Sam being silly

A lot of people come to me and say “it must be so hard this time of year for you!”  Yes, there are those moments – where Hannah finds an old ornament of Andrea’s; when an ornament with “wish” on it sparks Noah to say “maybe I should wish for Mom to come back!”

But I handle those things with aplomb now.  “Let’s think about wishing for things we can make come true.  How about that?” I ask him.
“Yeah…that’s true,” he says, and there’s no breakdown moment.  There’s no darkening of the mood.  Christmas comes every year, and though Andrea did it up brilliantly every year, I refuse to let the amazing feeling I get every winter be spoiled by loss.  I want all four of them to remember this like it’s the best time every year, too.  Sure, Andrea’s gone, physically, but we honor her and my Grandpa and everyone in our family by celebrating.  It’s not a small thing, it’s a beautiful thing.

Traditions are just that – things that bring you comfort.  There’s a reason I have 1 tub of stuff to decorate in the fall and something like 8 of them for Christmas.  Traditions like putting food in shoes – those were little things that brought treats and appeased kids for my wife and her family.  But Christmas in my house . . . Christmas is the tradition.  Getting the tree, decorating, eating cookies and cocoa, those all make me smile.

I put the angel on top the tree, looking like a cross between Andrea and Abbi, and nobody gets sad. “I picked out that tree topper, I thought it was beautiful,” Abbi says  with a smile.

I come down from the stool and quote Linus Van Pelt from Charlie Brown’s Christmas special – “I never thought it was such a bad little tree.  It’s not bad at all, really.”
Then the kids chimed in . . . “it just needed a little love!”  A truer statement couldn’t be said.

Our Tree
Our Tree

Ceramic snowmen and selfless gifts

My smiley son Sam
My smiley son Sam

I wasn’t really looking forward to the evening’s events tonight.  Not really.

My day had been long, covering a murder trial’s sentencing that ultimately ended in the death penalty for the man convicted, I was already a bit stressed out.

Understand, I’ve described my day before as a sort of “Dad Sandwich.”  I wake up in the morning, make sure that the kids get a good breakfast – this morning it was waffles I’d made and frozen over the weekend.  Then it’s getting them situated, making sure their socks match, belts are on, pants aren’t too small (Sam, one of the twins, had put on a pair that was a size too small and looked like a scientist at Google . . . just needed the horned rims and tape between the lenses)  and that they have their shoes.  Both shoes.  I swear, one day I’ll write my autobiography and it will be called “One Shoe – the things that drove this singular parent to the cliffs of insanity!”

In the middle of this I was medicating my oldest daughter who has a cold so nasty I’m just counting down the minutes until I catch it myself.

This comes to the point where I work, as an investigative journalist, and spend my eight hours trying to pry information out of people who don’t want to give me information.  It’s rewarding, sometimes entertaining, and more often very stressful.  My day usually ends, then, with my getting home, making dinner, getting the kids in order, arguing with them to clean up the dishes, then doing the bedtime routine.  That’s followed by planning breakfast for tomorrow and making lunches as well so that I’m not up at 4am trying to do it all then.

 

On my way out the door today I shouted at my middle daughter, Hannah, that the dishes and kitchen needed to be cleaned.  She did it two days ago and apparently believes that she can do them once a week and that’s enough.  I’ve since stopped cleaning up the kitchen and informed the other 3 children that if Hannah doesn’t do her chores and I can’t get to the stove we’re not eating.

Tonight, though, they were saved . . . saved by, of all things, that murder trial.  I had taken the light rail into work, which is fairly typical, but I had to work to the last train out, which usually gets me home just after 7pm.  I had to take out some pre-made stuff from the freezer, throw it in the oven, and that in turn alleviated the stove from the equation.  That’s good, you see, because Hannah, without a doubt, had not put a single dish into the dishwasher, even.   I was exhausted, grimy from the light rail car, and just in a cruddy mood.

I shouldn’t ever come in the door in a crummy mood, by the way.  That’s not fair to the kids – who have been waiting all day to tell me about their afternoon.  I walk in and see the table a mess, the stove dirty, and no dishes cleaned up.  Hannah is nowhere to be found – and it’s her chore today – and sitting in among the dishes is a strange looking cup.

It’s a snowman.

A ceramic coffee cup, carrot for a nose, scarf rolling around its head . . . it’s the hollowed out head of a snowman turned coffee cup.  It’s the cutest thing in the room at the moment, I have to say.

“Where’d this come from?” I asked knowing the flood of expository remarks were coming.
“That’s Sam’s.”
Sam then entered . . . “We get to buy things with points and I used them to get this . . . and a pocket frisbee.”

He immediately removed a tiny circular bag which he unzipped and removed a circular cloth frisbee that went “pop” every time.
“I got one of those too,” Noah expounded, and then ran to his backpack and regaled me with the tale of every…single…detail of how he paid for them, what his search entailed, and how he got that, a couple koosh balls, and a memory card game.

“Yeah, I just got the frisbee, some Christmas stickers, and the cup,” Sam tells me, but he’s got this pleasant little Stan Laurel smile on his face.

We ate, so late by this point that the bedtime routine was shoved back and we only read a few pages of their book – A Wrinkle in Time tonight.  I was grumpy, had cut them all off of their descriptions more than once as they tried to recount their days.  Hannah walked in with a piece of artwork and I grumpily told her I’d look at it if she ever managed to get the kitchen cleaned up.

As I finished reading and was tucking in my kids, Sam looks at me and says “do you like the snowman cup, Dad?”
“Yeah, kiddo, it’s really cute.  Totally you, I can see that.”
“Good . . . because it’s yours, Daddy!”
“What?”
“I got it for you.  I’d been waiting to get enough points and I wanted to get it for you so you could use it before Christmas!”
By this point I was deeply touched . . . I truly was.
“You used your good behavior and classroom stuff, Sam, you can keep it.”
“Oh . . . I didn’t want the cup, Daddy, I thought you would like.  I always wanted to give it to you!”

I tucked them both in, and gave Sam a huge hug.
“Thank you kiddo.”
“Merry Christmas, Daddy!”

I went downstairs, having seen that all four kids were in bed . . . and decided that tonight I could do the dishes myself.

Except for the snowman cup.  That I used to drink some hot chocolate . . . and smiled my own Stan Laurel smile as I drank out of it.

The Smiles You’ll Give the Tears You’ll Cry

I have said before how my children all have dealt with the loss of their mother in different ways.  How could they not? 
They are different people, all with differing personalities.  My oldest, Abbi, has her moments.  She tends to be a little introspective, but will say when she needs a hug, to talk or to ask questions.  Hannah is comfortable to let me know when she isn’t happy and crying about missing her Mom.  The boys are completely different.  Noah tends to be philosophical, quiet, and questioning.  He has complete certainty that his Mom is happy and resting in a place in his heart and up there somewhere.  Sam is crazy quiet.  He cried the day it happened but spent the next two days upstairs wanting nothing more than to be alone.  He talked when he needed it, but he never collapsed in grief.  He was what he was: he was Sam.

The thing to remember about all this is that my kids are all comfortable and know that they have people they can talk to.  If they need me I’m there.  I have never, ever pushed them away or told them to wait if they had an issue with grief or loss.  The boys ask why their Mom had to die.  Hannah asks why we ended up the way we did.  I answer the best I can, telling them that sometimes bad things happen.  We can’t change them, but we can live with them.  We made it a year and as hard as every single moment is, every new holiday, we know we did it once before, we can do it again.  No, we haven’t faced proms, graduations, weddings, but that’s not something we have to face at the moment.

So given that, nothing frustrates me more than when people, thinking they are perfectly meaning well, decide they have to “help” us.  I got home yesterday and Noah, the oldest of the twins (he likes that he’s :15 older than his brother) was sitting on the steps to the upstairs alone, trying to be away from everyone.  His sister informed me he’d been sad and down all day because he was taken to the grief counsellors at school and pushed to talk about his situation.  Some background: another Mom in my boys’ class passed away on Friday.  It is tragic, sad, and just four days after the anniversary of Andrea’s death.  The Mom had an infection, pneumonia, looked like she was recovering and then gone.  Yes, the circumstances – though simplistic in my description here – were similar.  But all of us were fine.  I had told the boys what was going on when I saw them on Friday.  Hannah was aware as well.  We talked and they were even saying they wanted to make a card for the family if the school hadn’t thought of something to do for the family.

Yet somehow, someone at the school decided that my sons needed to see the grief counsellor that the diocese sent to the school for the day.  I’m upset for a couple reasons: first, it’s the fact they took my son to this counsellor without telling me.  I have talked with doctors before, as has Noah.  I’ve been told we’ve managed very well, the kids are OK and there seems to be no visible acting out in grief.  If there was he would have had issues at home, school, all of it.  Yes, Noah had behavior problems, but even the doctors say he’d had those before his mother passed away.  Sure, it’s a factor, but not the deciding factor in his behavior.  The counsellor made my son recount what happened on the day his Mom died.  They made him talk about his Mom, everything that happened and pushed him until he started to lose it and cry.  In an effort to make him “deal with his grief” they actually pulled him two steps backward.  That’s the second issue I have with this.  He has talked about this.  He has told us all when he was sad or grieving more. 

It never ceases to amaze me how many people want to imprint their grief and confusion on everyone else.  They think there’s no possible way we can not be affected by this so they push us to be affected.  The boys were happy and playing and while they were empathetic like nobody else can be to this child who lost their Mom, in no way were they breaking apart because it made them see some cosmic plan to take down Moms and throw the kids into an abyss of sadness. 
They are so sure that we are going to be upset and hurt they push us to be upset and hurt.  Noah and Sam weren’t crying and sad so they had to be suppressing it and needed to be crying and sad.

They didn’t. 

I have said on multiple occasions: we are surrounded by people who have helped us stand on our own two feet.  My parents lived with us and were in Nebraska with us last week, happy to see us and talking about Andrea when we wanted to talk about her.  My sister-in-law takes care of the kids and talks to me when she needs it and I to her.  I have a friend who lost her husband who has been amazingly comforting to me.  I have friends in other cities.  I have families in our parish.  I have great friends here in our town that help me pick up the kids, whose kids are friends with my kids.  Who are amazing friends and as close to family as you can get without being blood relatives.  We made it.  We got past a year.  No, we’re not healed all the way yet.  There’s no healing a wound of this size.  But we’re learning to live with it.

So why do we have to act like we’re faltering with every test that hits us?  The smiles we give, the tears we cry, all of them are part of the process.  We are on a path we have paved.  We started writing on the empty page.  We don’t need another editor re-writing to book for us.

I don’t mean to be upset or too angry, but when it comes to my kids I refuse to back down.  Other people feel bad and in an effort to make sense of the awful thing that has happened they want others – people who have suffered something like this already – to come down with them.  At some point we have to keep walking forward.  It’s hard to run a race while looking over your shoulder.  You can’t stay in the lines on the page while looking away from the paper.

We smile, we cry, and we live.  We’re balanced on the biggest wave.  Please, don’t try to pull us off and make us dwell in the quagmire.

Happy New Year . . . Sort of. . .

My family, taken by Amy Renz's Hunny Bee Photography

My Sweet Angel, by Manoucheri: Andrea’s Song, rewritten

I have to admit it, there has been an overwhelming amount of support and an outpouring of thoughts for me and my four children after we approached and now passed the anniversary day. I give it only that title because, quite frankly, it’s the day I both gained and lost my wife. Not sure how often that happens, but I am fairly certain the odds are pretty astronomical. If I had bought a lottery ticket that day I might have had better odds.

Yesterday was as I’d assumed it would be: lots of anticipation and worry for a day that came and went. There were obvious signs that it was weighing on us. Hannah slapped her brother in the arm hard enough to make a mark and only said “I don’t know why” when I burst into the room in a fit of parental rage. She lost her game boy and sat in her Grandma’s office for awhile until she could stop it. This coming after she’d spent the entire day at the county museum helping one of the women there she’d befriended and become pen pals with.

Abbi, my oldest, spent the day in bursts of isolation, in her room, playing a drawing game and words with friends on her phone. Ever connected through this interweb to the people more than a thousand miles away.

Which brings me to another point. I can only imagine how hard this might have been at home. Surrounded by Andrea’s family, friends, acquaintances, all of them her friends and life. We’ve made a life in California that is ours, sure, but the move to California, to be close to family, job, all of that was so that we could make life easier for all of us to get established and make our lives together. We did that, but my anticipation, which may have been worse than reality, told me we’d get inundated with phone calls, visits, all of it yesterday. Beside that, the people who helped us get through all of our trials and tribulations were my folks, who live several states away. As it is, the day came and went, the kids seemingly OK with it all. They did not dwell on things, they had helped make the video, and in a way I think that was cathartic enough for them.

For me, I had several days with my folks and younger brother. His trio came out and I sat in, making it a quartet, and we played into the late night banging out “Dear Mister Fantasy”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, even obscure jams like “Do What You Like” as well as nearly 3/4 of our first album, “The Blind Leading the Blind”, which they play as a trio. You may work out, go for a run, beat on a punching bag, what have you. Nothing is better for me than this. I played Adam’s guitars, breaking a string on his black Clapton Strat; punching the air with the speaker cabinet ringing out his Les Paul Special; and ended the night with his ’73 Stratocaster. I was sore, my fingers hurt and I was dripping in sweat, and it was the best thing in the world.

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Social media helped to spread the word of our loss and the tribute to our beloved Andrea. Where in years past, though, we might have disappeared, it amazes me the draw that those applications, web pages and social interactions draw us. Abbi was connected and pummeled with well wishes and emails. We both looked at Facebook and Twitter and saw the thoughts and wishes of everyone. Unlike being at home, though, we could bask in the glow of the lives Andrea had touched and not wallow in the misery of losing her.

Like being at home, though, once the house went quiet, I was left to my own devices. Each tick of the clock moved to another moment 19 years ago. The morning, where the temperature was much like yesterday, unlikely warmth, and the snow melting. The morning with my wife and her bridesmaids, still in our apartment when they should be at the church, hung over from whatever debauchery they’d managed the night before. The early afternoon, with my brother, best man, leaning over right before Andrea entered the row of pews and whispering “it’s not too late if you want to make a break for it” and grinning behind his mustache. My father, as Andrea got halfway down the aisle, making me smile so much my cheeks hurt leaning in and saying “son, as of this point, you will have no opinion” and giggling.

As the house was empty and everyone in bed, I sat looking at the clock and realizing we’d have been leaving the reception and heading up to the Red Lion hotel and our room, which cost literally the last pennies I had. I sat and realized I was more like the year ago than 19. One year ago, at that very moment, I sat on the couch, alone, unable to sleep, staring at the wall and unable to fathom what comes next. I was awake for 72 straight hours. I couldn’t sleep. I watched every single episode of HBO’s “The Wire”.

I stayed up until this morning, around 2:30am, but that’s all I did. Unlike 365 days before, I knew what was coming. That’s the advantage, I suppose, of marking this day. The fact that it isn’t just a hard day to mark, the day we lost the bright star of our home. It’s also the mark of success for us, if you can believe that. We made it one year. Second by second, minute by minute, then day by day, we got here. We’re still looking at things each day as it comes, but it starts over. We made it through the boys’ birthdays first. My and Hannah’s birthday; The fourth of July, our favorite holiday; Andrea’s birthday, Halloween, Abbi’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas . . . all of it on our own, my decisions guiding us.

We made it . . . sort of. Sure, we had help, but that’s the new part of our lives. We made it because of that help – something I’d have been loathe to ask for a year ago. Now, I know what it is to do this. It won’t make this day any easier when we reach it 364 from now, it still marks the best and worst day of my life. But now I know I’ve gotten through it, I can do it again.

The Final Sign

My Favorite Picture of Andrea

Tell Me What You Want (And I’ll Give You What You Need) by The Doobie Brothers

There is one final task, one last thing that I’ve put off and stalled far more than the average widow or widower likely ever would. I wish I could say there’s some massive, glorious artistic reason, a bent that drives me to wait until perfection is reached but I’d absolutely be lying to you if I said that.

Andrea died and there were so many things I had to choose, so many things I had to decide that were life changing or even permanent options that we should have made together.  I never thought about where we would spend eternity.  I had to walk through the cemetery with a map of open plots that showed where there were openings and determine where I should put Andrea forever.  I was about to choose one of the first places we found, a simple little spot under a big tree when my Dad told me to wait and look around.  That I might find somewhere that might fit a little better.  I can’t lie, there was part of me that was so tired, so exhausted and depressed that I just wanted it to be over.  Andrea was normally that voice of reason.  She was the one who would look at me and say “Dave, just look around.  I like this one.”  I didn’t have her to help me make the decision so I was lost, literally wandering around a cemetery trying to figure out what would be the best place.

This came after having had to decide on the flowers.  Decide on the casket, but since we had been through so many things and her body was in the shape it was in we only could choose from two different caskets, the costs rising exponentially through the decision making process.  It’s really strange, the things you have to decide upon.  That first day, just about an hour after my wife passed away, the hospital forced upon me a list of decisions I had to make.  A list, not a simple handful, but pages of information, things I had to determine.  A long line of items that just kept piling up and staring back at me, telling me, “yes, Dave, you’ve lost the person you loved more than anyone else in this world, but figure it out, kid, you have to get home and tell your kids the worst thing they’ve ever heard.”

The funniest thing is, in that entire list, between a mortuary, the casket, what kind of service, reception, rosary or not, the thing that kept jumping out at me, the craziest and most inane of things, was the item that said “find clothes for your loved one in the casket.”  I kept staring at that list and only could see that she needed clothes and I didn’t know what to dress her in.  I didn’t know what to do.  There were so many massive, horrific decisions I needed to make and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was going to have to find something that Andrea would have approved of wearing forever.  It’s funny, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I obsessed over it, to the point that I must have worried everyone, my daughter, Andrea’s best friend too because the two of them took over the duty and went out, together, and Andrea’s best friend bought her an outfit and jewelry to wear for eternity.

Had I not had all these amazing people, from my father, mother and kids to Andrea’s best friend and sister, I would have failed, fallen, and collapsed on my knees with no idea where to turn.  I would have never made it.  It was an amazing testament to the people who loved Andrea and love me, but also an indication to me just how ill prepared I was for everything.

The last decision I have to make is proof that I just cannot face all the difficulties sometimes.  You see, Andrea sits there, in the ground, in a spot that I finally chose after spending that extra time my father prodded me to take.  I’m glad he did.  Sitting there in a spot forever she lies under the shade of one of her favorite trees, a crepe myrtle, another crepe just behind her.  Both trees smaller now, but looking to age well and both shade her from the intense heat of the sun and shower her with flowering beauty forever.  The funny thing is as much as I’d like to say Andrea’s in a great spot and would love where she is, I picked it knowing more that we’d think of her, that the trees would remind us of her choices and her life.  I picked the spot so we’d be happy to come visit her.

Still, as perfect as her spot is, I have up to this point refused to decide on her gravestone.  That’s the final choice I haven’t been able to let myself make.  Over the summer, Hannah found some old stones in the cemetery surveys my mother did for the Nebraska Historical Society that had ideas she and her siblings wanted to put on the stone.  Andrea was my angel, and I told her that.  She was “My Sweet Angel” and I even wrote her a song with that as its title.  I wanted her to have an angel, but something that stood out.  I wanted to have the winged letter “A” that Hannah found on a stone in O’Neill.

I want it to be a stone that’s not a run of the mill choice.

But I still can’t bring myself to buy it and put it on the ground.  It’s not just the cost.  I knew it wouldn’t be cheap, I even researched the places that will cut the grave marker for me.

It’s just . . . final.  It makes it real, finally and permanently real.  That’s the best I can come up with, though it’s not all of it.  I don’t want to do it.  Every time I think about it, every time I look at the stones or talk to the granite company I just start to fall apart.  I don’t want to do it, but I know it’s just so disrespectful not to.

It’s the final sign, the last bastion and hold on the former reality that I have.  Once I place that it’s like it means it’s really happened, that she’s really down there.  I have to see it, written in stone, that she is gone, she left me and I have to carry on without her.  I hear all the time, people say that we’ll be together again.  Is that really fair?  If she’s in paradise, I’m left here without her.  Seeing the amazing wonder that is my children growing, but living in the hell between sleep and waking.  I am left here for years without her and it really bothers me.

Andrea deserves better, I know it, but I can’t let go.  I keep looking and keep holding back.  I know I have to make a decision soon, but I just cannot bring myself to do it.

It’s the final sign.  The last letters on the page that lead to the new story.  It’s like not wanting to really know how the story ends and make the book last longer than it has.  Except this time I’m the writer and I really do know how it ends.

It’s a New Year . . . or Is It?

It’s a New Year, at least that’s what the calendar says.  The Mayan armageddon, the rapture on December 21st.  But they’re wrong, the year hasn’t started for us yet.

The change to 2012 has been a strange one for me and my kids.  It’s not because the day was particularly difficult.  Sure, we felt the sort of twinge of emptiness, seeing that there was that one boisterous personality missing from the room, but it’s not like there was much we could do about that.  I didn’t want to be out, partying, reminded of the fact that I didn’t have my love standing next to me when the clock struck midnight.

The kids and I stayed home, starting a fire, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores, waiting until 8:45 to go into the house and watch Kathy Griffin strip and Anderson Cooper look uncomfortable as the clock started to count down.  After it dropped, my oldest, Abbi, and I had small glasses of champagne and quickly turned on the Wii system and played Pictionary with the little ones.  By 10:30 they were in bed and Abbi and I spent the night watching Blazing Saddles instead of watching Jenny McCarthy make out with whatever random guy she met in Times Square this year.

And it was nice.  I mean, sure, it’s not dropping balloons from the ceiling or fireworks outside, but it was calm, it was fun, and the kids didn’t get upset or sad.  They laughed.  They chased each other in the back yard; they got messy with melted marshmallow; they fell and got muddy chasing a soccer ball in the dark.  They did everything but wallow, which I was hoping would happen for the night.

But bear in mind that even though we’ve made it through the opening day of 2012 it doesn’t mean we’re all set and the year begins for us.  Where you probably sat and thought about the 364 more to come we have to count down the days until March 26th.  We’ve made it through most the major holidays and family moments.  Just a couple weeks after Andrea’s funeral I had to plan a birthday party for the boys.  This wouldn’t be a big deal for most people, I’m sure, but Andrea always knew what to buy for presents.  She had amazing plans for parties.  Everything was perfect in her world.  Now, not only had they lost their Mom, but they had only me to figure out what to do, how to put it together, how to celebrate, what presents, all of it.  It was a testament to the boys that they had a good time even without their Mom there.

Hannah and I share a birthday.  When she turned 12, I had to miss it because I’d started a new job and she was in Nebraska with my parents.  Without that summer “camp” in the Midwest, I’d never be able to survive the summers.  We Skype‘d on her birthday, showing her the present I’d made (piecing together the best parts to make one solid, Claptonesque “Blacky” guitar) and saying Happy Birthday.  I made a pilgrimage to Los Angeles by driving the Pacific Coast Highway alone and taking 10 hours – double the normal time – just to see the ocean and try to get some calm.

One of the sites of my LA Pilgrimage

Andrea’s birthday became a family holiday.  I never got it right so I got each child a little present and made a fancy cake and we celebrated the day together.  It was sad and uncomfortable, but we made it through.

Abbi’s birthday was small.  She didn’t want anything big and we gave her a bunch of stuff and had a fancy cake and she seemed happy and sad at the same time.

Christmas was empty without her, but we made it different enough that we didn’t really hate the day, we enjoyed ourselves.

But New Year’s isn’t the signal to the end of the worst year ever.  It’s just another signpost.  We still have to face the next event.  For the kids it’s just a terrible day.  For me, it’s double depressing.  The day Andrea died, the 26th of March, is also the day I married her.  It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that a day you celebrated, the day you should have amazing, loving and soft memories is forever colored grey by the terrible events that swirled around the end of her life.  Over 20 years I knew Andrea, more than half my life, and was married 18 of those.  Now I’m left to watch the world move around me and wonder what I’m supposed to do from here.

The most obvious is to be their Dad.  I know that.  I don’t know how we’re going to handle March – the month, the week, the day of her death.  I know I’m going to ask for time off, to ask that I not be here when we reach the day.  One of my best friends had lost her sister years ago.  When the day would arrive she didn’t really want to share what made the day so hard, she just wasn’t at work.  She wasn’t around.  I didn’t pry, I knew that when she wanted to let me or others know what she was going through she would, and eventually we became close enough that she knew she could lean on me if she started to stumble.  When Andrea died, she was one of the earliest calls I made.  In fact, I thought of her, of how she dealt with the horrible emotions such a strange anniversary brings.

I don’t know what the day will bring.  All I can say is that until we make it through March 26th, 2012 doesn’t start for us.  Not really.  It’s the worst chapter of our story so far, I know it already.  We just haven’t written how it’s going to go yet.  I ache for the day to pass yet worry that we’re getting farther and farther from her as we get past these points in our lives.

It’s a New Year, it’s 2012.  The naysayers say that it’s the end of the world but they were wrong.  For us, it already ended.  We already started picking up the pieces and rebuilding.

A Reason to Believe . . .

Reason to Believe by Rod Stewart

My Favorite Picture of Noah!

There are times I have no idea what is going through my kids’ heads.  I really don’t.  I wish I did, after all, I’m their Dad, I want to make sure they’re OK, that they’re happy, that they’re not depressed.  I want to make sure they don’t have to go through what I’ve been through, even though there’s no choice in the matter.  They’re going through it anyway.  They go on with their lives in much of the same way I do.  They wake up every morning, they remember to get dressed, eat their breakfast, move on with their day, and do nothing more than that.

But I also see the little things that creep in, the little pieces of heartbreak that hurt me just as much, but make me smile and I feel guilty for liking them so much.

If you’re confused, I think this example will help you.  First, there’s Sam, who I’ve mentioned before is the family’s version of Hector Protector.  Sam always needs to know where we are, at all times, and thinks that if we’re not around things will be really terrible.  When he’s upstairs in his room reading or in his little play area playing Nintendo, he periodically comes to the banister and shouts: “Hey Dad!”
“Yeah, Samwise?”
“love you!”

Abbi is her mother’s daughter.  She worries.  Where I was sick the last few days, all through New Year’s she protected me. She took the kids on a walk or up to the bedroom when I fell asleep from lack of energy .  She yelled at me for making dinner when I didn’t have energy to walk across the street.  She made snide comments when the kids asked “what are you doing Dad?”  “He’s getting himself sicker, that’s what!” was Abbi’s response.

Hannah is just the little love.  She’s not little, nor is she small, she’s 5 foot 5 and growing like a weed but still acts very much the 12-year-old.  She comes over at the most inconvenient times and hugs me, whether I want her to or not.  She’s exasperating, confusing and just plain lazy sometimes but she’s the sweetest child on the planet.

Then there’s Noah.  Noah was the subject of much disciplinary chicanery.  He craves to be the center of attention, but he’s also the philosopher who told me “Moms have the biggest part of our hearts because without Moms there wouldn’t be any more people so Mommy lives in a big part of my heart” on the day his Mommy died.  He can be excruciatingly annoying and amazingly sweet.

But with Noah I started to notice something I hadn’t realized even the months before.  Noah gets up before I do.  It’s not that this was uncommon, he likes to be the early bird, but this is different.  Just yesterday morning I realized that it’s not to be up and doing something.  He’s not like his Mom, hating to be left out.  He wants to make sure I’m there.  I woke up to find him lying on the couch, half awake, lord knows how long he’d been there.  He was waiting for me.

He wants to make sure I am there every morning.  Just in case.

I get it, I really do.  If you wake up in the morning, like I do, you think things are like they’d always been until you realize you’re in a different house and you’re alone again.  He sees his Mom in his dreams.  He prays to her to help him to be better in school.  She, as he so duly noted, lives in the biggest part of her heart.  I can see for the first time that he isn’t getting up in order to annoy me or be the first one up or be the center of attention.  He’s awake because he wants to make sure he sees me, to know I’m there, to get comfort from the fact that, unlike his mother, I see him before I leave and I see him when I get home.  He makes sure he’s there when I come in the door from work as well.

I got the final confirmation of this hypothesis when we went to see the movie “The Adventures of Tin Tin”.  Noah had been dying to see it but we chose the busiest day of the year to go.  I left the kids off, gave Abbi my card and had her wait for me while Hannah and the boys got us seats.  Parking took forever, as did concessions, so I entered the theater 5 minutes into the previews.  I got to the side of the theater where the kids were seated and Noah was in a panic.

“He’s been so worried, Dad!”
“Worried about what,” I asked my oldest daughter.
“He thought you weren’t going to make it.  He was worried you wouldn’t be here.”

It was only a few minutes, but those few minutes shook him to his core.  The look of relief on his face made the veil raise on all his silly little activities and anecdotes.  Mommy held the biggest part of his heart, he didn’t want to make room for me, too.  He wants me here, grounded, ready to hold him up like I have been.  He adored his Mom and it must have torn him up more than I even thought to know she wasn’t coming home.  He’s mad when he cries about her even when I tell him it’s OK, nobody thinks badly of him crying about missing his Mom.

But he doesn’t just miss her.  He’s worried about all of us, just doesn’t know how to show it.

Except he does.  So this morning I scooted his little head onto my lap, leaving the house a few minutes later than usual.  When he woke up, he noticed there was a hot waffle on a plate and syrup at the ready and I was cradling his head.  I gave him a firm foundation for his day.  I gave him reason to believe his Dad will be there.

And I will be, no matter what it takes to keep him feeling that way, because I can’t see that look, that panic in his eyes again.  I may have been late to the picture, but I saw the whole scene played out.  That’s what’s important to him.  And now it’s become important to me.

And I have to admit, I love coming home to see him peeking through the curtains.  I love he has a reason to believe I’ll be there to see it.

That’s Powerful Stuff . . .

Powerful Stuff by the Fabulous Thunderbirds

Sometimes there is powerful stuff (to quote the Fabulous Thunderbirds) out there that you can’t avoid.  I can avoid what I can’t see coming.  It’s the stuff I didn’t know was out there that get to me.

There are a few things that I must admit, even though we enjoyed them as a family, I was able to retain possession.  I lost several of my favorite Clapton songs.  “Wonderful Tonight” I simply cannot hear on the radio, television or even Muzak.  Our first dance, first kiss, wedding dance, all were to that song.  Cannot hear it without losing it.  “Layla” kills me, though I’m at a point where I can finally listen to it.  I don’t watch any of the vampire shows she loved so much.  I can’t see many of the dramas.  I don’t order from one particular pizza chain . . . they’re things I simply have to avoid because they’re parts of my life she stole away when she left.

But I retained one particular television show, a Sci-Fi program decades old and my favorite as a kid.  She hated the ’60s-’70s version for its bad special effects and liked the new one but didn’t make it a point to watch it every week.

Yes.  I’m a geek, a troubled, self-conscious, certified hard and fast Whovian.  I love the TV show Doctor Who.  (For the hardcore fans, you’ll notice I didn’t use Dr. I spelled it out)  I mean, as a kid, I was obsessed.  I had the giant scarf, the rumpled brown hat, just needed the curls and the teeth.  When they re-booted the show I was aghast and enamored at the same time.  The special effects had reached modern day and the writing was brilliant.  I had to convince my wife to watch with the kids because she actually had full disdain for the program.

This isn’t a commercial for the show, bear with me, there’s a point.

The writer and executive producer of the current incarnation is brilliant.  But I didn’t know how brilliant.  Some people just get it, if you know what I mean.  My situation is certainly one where people don’t really understand and it seems easy to just say you’re sorry and that things will be OK.  By the way, telling someone like me that I shouldn’t worry, it’s all for the best, there’s a plan, a foretelling or a future that I just don’t know about . . . worst possible thing to tell me.  Why?  Because I hate the idea there’s a “plan” that involved me marrying an amazing woman only to lose her when I needed her most.  Screw the plan!  What happened to my free will in all this?!

But back to Who.  I love the show and my kids love it, too, which makes me happy.  My oldest . . . well, she doesn’t.  Or perhaps she does but doesn’t want the cool people to know that she does because, in England it’s the highest rated program and here it’s a cult hit.  I can watch it, possibly because it changes so much from year to year or episode to episode.

Every Christmas they put on a spectacle that’s over an hour long and involves some sort of catastrophe.  We wanted so desperately to watch it on Christmas day but time, relatives and reality just got in our way.  We ended up waiting until last night.

It’s the only time I’ve walked out in the middle of an episode.

Understand, it wasn’t that the episode was terrible, it was great.  But it’s called “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.”  A woman loses her husband to WWII at the beginning of the picture.  Midway through they’re visiting an old manor house to get away from the bombing and she hasn’t told her children that their father isn’t coming home.  She yells at them at a particular moment in the episode and says she doesn’t know why.  She doesn’t want Christmas to be forever known as the day their father was taken away.

“They’re just so happy and . . . ”
“. . . and you know once you tell them they’ll never be happy like this again.”

Or words to that effect.

The writer producer, Steven Moffat, in one phrase didn’t just twist, he wrenched the knife in my heart.  Without speaking or writing those words myself, the program had hit the point perfectly.  Not only was I the bearer of bad news, I was the harbinger of disappointment.  On March 26th I walked in and even though there was no choice in the matter, I was ripping a large part of their innocence away.  I knew that every bit of happiness from this point on would be touched with a shadow.  A spot of regret and misery that would filter into everything.  It would dim, for sure, and maybe disappear occasionally, but don’t you believe it goes away for good.  The shadow stays forever and I knew that the moment I walked in and said I had to tell them all something that the shadow would start to grow.

It’s back to something I’ve said many times before.  The big things like Christmas Day, birthdays, holidays, songs, all those things we know will hit us.  It’s the stuff from out in left field, the line in our favorite show or the picture or the worst thing – smells – that throw me into a tizzy.  You just never know what’s going to hit you.

I walked out into the hallway until I could pull myself together.  The kids didn’t know anything, how could they?  They weren’t the ones who had to tell someone their Mom wasn’t coming home.  If the writers and producer of that program haven’t suffered this kind of loss I don’t know how to explain their getting it so beautifully right!  It’s a sci-fi show, an effects laden extravaganza with an impossible plot and improbable ideas.  It’s why I love it so much.

I don’t pretend to be able to cope.  I can’t go back and un-watch a show any more than I can go back and stop Andrea from dying.  I can see these things for what they are, and that’s getting something the way it really is, getting it right.  For every post I put here, shows like this who tell people what that sadness really is, not a simplistic tragedy that can be whitewashed with platitudes but a powerful thing that can have an impact on our whole future.

I don’t hide those emotions, I hide those tears.  It’s OK for my kids to know they can feel these things and deal with them.  But they also need to know their father is strong enough to shoulder their burdens, even if it’s just so much smoke and mirrors as the sci-fi show they’re watching.  At least they know, they have someone who can help them.

There’s someone who can help them deal with the powerful stuff.

The Best Daddy He Knows.

Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers

The Samwise we all knew . . . laughing with his Mom off-camera

I have talked a lot about my oldest daughter, my middle daughter, and even my son who has had some behavioral problems.  I haven’t talked much about my son Sam.  He’s the quiet one, the John Entwistle of our version of the Who.  The Clapton to our Cream.  The . . . well, you get it.

Hannah was attached to Andrea at the hip.  She loved her Mom, but more adored her.  Where I would try to give Hannah a hug she’d push away and give me nasty looks.  In fact, she’d push me away from her and immediately go over to her mother and sit on her lap and hug her, sometimes even looking at me with a silly, mischievous look on her face.  This may sound like it bothered me, but it really didn’t.  It was OK, because I honestly felt the same way.  I’m not really cuddly or “cute” and I don’t have the soft gentle way my wife did.

But where Hannah was attached to Andrea, Sam was her buddy.  They were pals.  They would talk.  He didn’t sit on her lap, but he sat next to her, always in her vicinity and always knowing where she was.  He had a deep and abiding affection for his Mom, not in the way he loved her, that was like any son would for his Mom.  This was a friendship that was deep and he just seemed to understand her without having to say it.   It’s just like the song says, there ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.  We had some really dark days in those first weeks.

I worried about Sam after she died.  The day I told the kids their Mom had passed away they all had different reactions, like you’d expect.  Abbi cried and didn’t want people to know how badly it was affecting her, but was allowing herself to do it because it was just so awful.  Hannah was heartbreaking, and I won’t repeat her aching statements here again.  Noah was crying, terribly, but ended up very philosophical and firmly believed, and still does, that she’s in his heart somewhere and comes to his aid when he needs it.  “Moms are important,” Noah says, “because without them there would be no people in the world.  So we love them more than anyone else, and they get the biggest part of our hearts.”  I had to break down and hug him until he nearly broke when he said that the day she died.

Then there was Sam.  I haven’t gone through Sam’s adjustment because in a way it’s almost more heartbreaking than everyone else’s.  Sam cried, sure, but not much.  We were all very sad, but Sam had a look like he was just . . . broken.  Like he’d lost the most important thing in the world and he’d just come to the realization that it was gone forever and there was no getting it back.  I told everyone we’d sit together and I’d do whatever I could or answer any questions.

“Can I go upstairs, Dad?” was Sam’s response.
“Sure, kiddo.  You need anything?”
“no.”

I thought maybe he’d want to cry by himself, let it sort of hit him in its own way.  He didn’t.  He turned on the Wii gaming system, but just sat there with the remote in his hand.  He didn’t even play it.  He didn’t cry, he didn’t yell or get angry, he just sat there.  Staring forward.  For hours.  I kept checking on him because it really worried me.  I wasn’t going to intrude on his world, he was adjusting in his own way, but it was awful.  He was pale.  He wouldn’t eat.  He didn’t cry, in fact he didn’t do anything.  He was my smiley, happy kid, loving to be silly and play games and go back and forth on the monkey bars for hours.  But for the first few days he was just stoic.  He only cried once at the funeral, in the pew, when Ave Maria (Andrea’s favorite hymn) was sung and he heard his aunt break down in the seat behind him.  A tear came down his cheek when he put the rose on his Mom’s casket, but then he left, his head bowed down and leaving before I finally lost it at the cemetery.

He slowly came back.  I wasn’t going to force him to act like something he wasn’t.  He didn’t cry, or scream, but he had to work through it and would occasionally ask me questions here and there.  When they spent the summer in Nebraska with my folks, a necessity since I was a sole working parent now, he would come inside from playing, leaving his siblings outside, and have conversations with my Dad . . . sometimes an hour or more.  The brightness of his face, the little smile started to come back.  He found humor in my Mom and Dad’s old Laurel and Hardy movies.  He laughed at Groucho Marx when he said “He may look like an idiot, he may talk like an idiot, but don’t let him fool you . . . he really is an idiot!”

When I came out to visit, then later to pick them up and take them home, he started sitting next to me on the couch.  He’d reach over and pull my arm onto his chest and hold it there.  He would randomly run into the kitchen and say:

“Hey Dad?”
“Yeah Sam?”
“…love you!”

And then he’d run back to what he was doing.

He began a new routine, seeing what he had in the people around him.  We had hit a stride in the routine, too.  We got our dinner, cleaned up while they watched a little something on the TV, then hit showers, pajamas, and came downstairs for a “midnight snack” around 8:20 or 8:30pm.  Then we go upstairs to brush teeth and read a chapter of their book and say our prayers.

One night, after we read and had done some little thing on the weekend, Sam gave me his hug and said “you’re the best Daddy ever.”

I wasn’t sure that I agreed, or should agree, I’m stumbling along, but I’m trying.
“That’s a big thing to say, Sam.  There are a lot of other Daddies in the world.  I don’t know that I’m the best.”
“You’re the best Daddy I know, so you’re the best.”

I smiled and gave him a big hug and turned out the light.

From that point on, he’s made it a point, every night, to say “Good night, you’re the best Daddy I know.”  He sits next to me on the couch.  He tells me what’s going on at school and asks questions about what he sees and where he’s going.  He has changed his routine.  He looks at his sister and says “I love you Abbi . . . ” and so on.  (Doesn’t do that to his brother, even at 8 that’s just weird, you know!)  But he’s coming back.

There’s still a little scar there where you can see his Mom used to be.  He is Sam, the little man in a kid’s body, who is so protective of his family that he watches all of us to make sure we’re OK, that we’re where he needs us to be.  I wish I could make that scar fade, help that pain to go away, but only he can do that.

It goes back to the hardest and best advice I ever got.  Sometimes, you just can’t fix everything.  There are times that you just have to let the kids face things on their own, being there when they want or need you, but they have to do some of this on their own.

So where the smiley, carefree little boy has left, a loving, cautious and curious boy has remained.  While I wish the shadow would leave his face completely, he’s doing OK and I realized myself that I needed to let him grieve, survive and do what he needed because he’d ask for help if he needed it.

I didn’t need to be the best Dad in the world.  I just have to be the best Dad he knows.

Pining for the ensuing chaos . . .

Noah wishes you a Merry-Xmas - my daughter took and had to share it!

Simple Things by the Tedeschi Trucks Band

I’m writing at the end of what could, possibly should, have been the worst day ever.  Christmas is an amazing time, and we love it in our house, always have.  It’s just such an amazing time and all the kids really do love getting presents, but they are actually just as excited by what they had to give as well.  It’s always been that way.

But this had all the makings of being the worse day.  I entered the Christmas weekend with every intention of tackling the day and addressing if we keep our routine of opening presents Christmas Day or keeping with the tradition that started with Andrea and waiting until morning.  It’s really tempting, it is, to change everything, make a new start in every way, not just some.  I had not thought about it and kept it off hoping to remove the decision.

The kids sang in the church choir, so it was left to Abbi, my oldest, and I to hold vigil in the pew with the thousands of people who don’t normally go to church and act aggravated with everyone who does in the parking lot because they’re in a hurry to leave right after communion and not hear the choir and didn’t realize that everything with the mass had changed and why does the priest take so long to give his homily when he knows Santa’s coming . . . etc. . . you get the picture.  It’s enough to make you avoid going at all.

But I sat there, smiling, proud and puffed up like always when the kids sing, and you can’t help but remember.  The year before, Andrea and I had gotten there later . . . because she wasn’t ready.  So I dropped the kids off and went back to the house to pick her up.  By the time we’d arrived, of course, it was only about 25 minutes before mass.  Anyone who has gone to Christmas mass knows you may as well get out your wallflower shoes because you’re not getting a seat that late.  Andrea’s knees were shot, the bones of her joints literally grinding together with every walk.  So we had to beg the parking attendant to let us up so I could drop her at the curb to avoid the uphill walk.  By the time I’d gotten to the church I was aggravated and she was angry, and there was no place to sit.  In the lobby I’d found a chair that matched the pews so I stole it and placed it next to a row and stood next to her.  I may have been angry, but I wasn’t heartless, and I was still chivalrous.

So sitting there yesterday I remembered looking at Andrea.  I remembered the kids singing, some of the same carols, and had to look at my shoes for a bit to think about the fact that we’d changed things.  We got there an hour early.  We had seats.  I’d gotten the outfits and the socks, shoes, did the boys’ hair . . . and Abbi helped her sister.  We were stressed, rumpled, and wrinkled, but we were there.  We’d avoided the screaming, shouting, sweating and running around; we’d missed the ensuing chaos that normally swept us into the abyss of stress and high blood pressure.  I sat there remembering Andrea’s tirade about how she always got everyone else ready and not herself, how she hated my frustration with having to drop her at the curb; how we weren’t sure if there was enough stuff for every kid.

I missed it.

I know, it’s horrible, scary, frustrating and painful, but it’s real life.  It’s how the holidays normally are.  I don’t have my family near me.  A handful of states separate us.  Distance, finances and weather isolate us here and I have to speak to my family, my firm foundation, on the ph0ne.  They always had a house full of people.  Me and my brothers, the kids when they were born, the snow, the ice, wind chill, and the mass of annoying but necessary relatives at my grandmother’s house with plate, container and bowl filled with every pie, cookie and holiday treat imaginable.  They were simple things, but things we need more than ever and will never have again.  My mother, Dad, their home, their goodies: pecan sandies, oatmeal cookies, sugar cookies, sour cream kolaches and their company, my brothers, their wives . . . they’re all impossibly far away.

With that missing, Andrea missing, the chaos calmed, it seemed so unlike Christmas.  Good friends asked us to come over Christmas Eve to have drinks, company and . . . chaos.  It was marvelous.  We brought pies, they had tacos, margaritas, cookies, cake, cheesecake . . . and kids.  Lots of kids, Dance Revolution on the Wii, and conversation.  They adopted us for the night – just a couple hours – and it made all the difference.  I heard giggling screams from the other room.  Insane laughter as kids and adults tried to dance like the impossibly ’80s looking avatars on the game system and the incredulous shouts as several kids couldn’t believe their friend had never seen “The Princess Bride”.

I tried to keep the holiday busy.  The more downtime the more time we had to reflect, which put us in the place I sat during church.  Reflecting on how our perfect chaos had disappeared and we were left to figure it out.

There are things that, as a Dad, I won’t ever get right.  Santa got suggestions for a dress from me this year.  When it was under the stocking this morning Abbi was floored.  When she tried it on, it didn’t fit.  As Dad, giving measurements to Santa, I hadn’t taken . . . well, taken the upper part of her body into consideration.  My wife is gone, and as a Dad, you don’t go into your daughter’s room and say “I’m going to run this tape measure across your chest now.”  it doesn’t work that way, it’s creepy that way.  But I should have done it, and I will have to from now on.  The roles aren’t reversed, they’re increased.

So now I keep an eye on the schedule for the bowl games so I can see our Huskers play.  But I also have to come to terms with knowing now that I have to measure a girl’s chest, waist, inseem, and everything, not just guess on size.  I can watch my thrillers knowing that my daughters need someone to watch “Top Model” with so they have a parent to make fun of the judges and Tyra Banks.  A year ago I’d have hidden in the office and played my guitar.  Now, I know what my daughter likes about certain designers and why she hates the leader and am just as confused that the foregone winner is tossed out without explanation.

Why?  The chaos was good.  The confusion, the anger, the vented frustration were all things that showed we cared.  The Grinch’s “noise, noise, noise NOISE!” is also what makes us aware that we’re surrounded by people and that we are lucky to have them.  So where some thought I did too much, bought too many presents and spent too much time swirling around I say we succeeded.  It could have been so easy to sink into the morass of depression today.  After 3 hours sleep and a son coming down the stairs just as Santa was leaving the presents only to be interrupted and disappear at the last minute leaving me holding the . . . er . . . stocking.  But we saw friends, I gave them great presents, we played with toys and games all day, visited my sister-in-law and had a great dinner with people, and were able to have Christmas.

So we didn’t have Christmas without her.  We had Christmas.  We loved that we got through it and hated that we did, knowing it meant another momentous occasion we pulled off without her here to make it what it was.

We were pining for the ensuing chaos, but in the end, we had a very Merry Christmas, we really did, in spite of ourselves.

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you had family and chaos all around you.  It’s not a curse, it’s a blessing.

Our family, prepping for Xmas, and capturing the calm before the chaos (photo by Photographer in the Family - link on home page)