Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christmas Through The Looking Glass

I knew this season would be the hardest part.

All year long, my daughter, son and I have been climbing over the holiday hurdles of a first year's loss. My husband Pete and I shared the same birthday, which followed just a few days after his death; we were all still numb, so passing that obstacle was almost easy. On Easter, we switched from family dinner to festive brunch, with great success.

Near summer's end, on what would have been our wedding anniversary, all four of "the kids" and I went out to dinner, following up with a bonfire party far into the night and a "sleep-over" at my house. Wonderful fun! Thanksgiving came fast upon the Hawaii cruise, and my mother was here to help us celebrate. So far, so good.

Then came December.

We always knew that this would be the tough one. Our family celebrated Christmas with iron-clad traditions for twenty-five years. Our Christmases were interchangeable as the years passed, like identical pearls slipping off a string. We never left home; that was the rule. Anyone who wanted to visit us was welcome, but we did not travel on Christmas. Every year, tree-trimming was a family event, the date carefully planned for and greatly anticipated. Kristine's "Snoopy" ornament went on the tree first, ever since she was a toddler. Matt's kindergarten snowman followed, second. This is the stuff that the most precious memories are made of.

On Christmas Eve, we always attended the same early Mass, came home, had dinner, drank eggnog, ate gingerbread cookies and watched "It's A Wonderful Life." When they were younger and living at home, Kristine and Matt woke us at 6:00 Christmas morning (although Pete and I were usually awake, awaiting our cue to rise). After the kids grew up and moved out of the house, they always spent the night with us on Christmas Eve and still "woke" us in the morning--although for the last few years it was closer to 7:30 than 6:00 a.m.!

Breakfast was always pop-open cinnamon rolls while we opened gifts, for what seemed like, and sometime was, hours. Dinner was always lasagna, prepared on Christmas Eve afternoon so that I could enjoy my Christmas Day with my family. Each year, the only difference in our Christmas was number of dinner guests. The kids knew that any of their friends who did not have plans should be invited to come to our house.

This year, there are no decorations; there is no tree. There are no gifts piling up in my spare room, waiting to be wrapped. No Christmas carols sing from my stereo. There are no excited daily conversations about what we found online or during a quick run through a favorite store, about what I'll give Kris and what Pete will give Matt.

My home is quiet. I still talk to Pete, but silently. Silent night, lonely night. All I want for Christmas is something I can never have again--that magical joy that enveloped the four of us each Christmas morning. But, I am quick to remind myself, I did have it. And I had it for over twenty-five years. How many of us are that fortunate?

I walk my dog in the evenings and admire the colorful Christmas lights on my neighbor's homes. Christmas trees wink and sparkle in front windows, just as ours always did, and I smile. Although my halls are not decked for the season, my children and I do have something to look forward to this Christmas.

We knew we could not endure Christmas at home this first year without Pete, without Dad. We're leaving town. We'll be traveling to Ireland for the holidays. I know Pete would approve. He was never one for doing anything halfway. If you're going to break tradition, break it all the way through to the bone. Shatter it, and build anew.

Christmas in Ireland won't be in the budget every year. It won't need to be. Traditions only need to be broken once. We're on our way to a Christmas full of surprises, this year and all the years to follow.