It makes me sad; I can’t remember Christmas’s before, before our life was turned upside down. I can’t remember what it was like before the strokes when Marty was herself, when Marty was in charge, when Marty brought her own brand of joy to the world. I can’t remember.
We have pictures. I look at the pictures and I recognize the faces, the decorations and the homes. I see the moments in time, frozen, the contented smiles of a family standing with multiple generations looking at the camera or sitting at a table or sitting around a piano in mid song or playing a game or unwrapping way too many gifts.
I see the reminders of Christmas’s past but as time stretches I struggle to remember how it felt or how it sounded or how it smelled, the memories erode with time.
I remember the traditions of going to Christmas Eve services early to get a seat for all; I remember opening family gifts on Christmas Eve and Santa’s gifts on Christmas morning. I remember waking up in the dark and cold as a tomb basement in Dalhart or the kids whispering that it was time to get up and get at Santa.
But, I have forgotten plotting Santa and meals with Marty, I have forgotten wrapping late at night, and thankfully I have forgotten the trauma of putting the Barbie dream house together and how Marty put all those stupid stickers on. I have forgotten Marty’s embrace and the comfort of us as a working couple.
Daughter Erin and I talked the other day; she talked of missing some of the best parts of her Mother. She misses the free flow of Marty’s thoughts and ideas; she misses the encouragement, the prodding, the cajoling, the spirited part of her mother. She misses that mother daughter stuff that only mothers and daughters understand.
I sometimes forget how painful it must be for both Matt and Erin to have their mother with us yet have lost so much of who she was. It’s marvelous for them to see her, to know she is still here with her mother’s love for them. It’s painful to know that so many of the most powerful parts of her are gone. Accepting the new normal is okay, accepting the loss of what was is hard all of the time.
Holidays are hard because so much of what we like about Thanksgiving or Christmas are the traditions, the memories of familiar acts on these milestone days, the connection to our own personal histories. It’s hard to lose a part of your life, a part of your history; it’s hard to lose the personality (Marty’s) that provided so much energy and so many of the memories.
The reality of our life and its evolution is not nearly as dark as it may feel every now and then. We are making new memories, memories to hold on to, memories to guide us, traditions to guide us.
Marty is often overwhelmed with the chaos of Christmas day but she still wants to go to Christmas Eve services at our church, she wants to sing, she wants to see our friends and she still wants something under the tree from Kindler’s, our friendly town jeweler. And she still really likes to be with her kids and her family.
The truth is things change, life changes regardless of your circumstances, life changes because of circumstances. As much as tradition is about the past and what used to be you can’t let the past or longing for what was impair your ability to enjoy the present. Being present in the here and now was a constant refrain from my dear bride. Someday I hope to be able to do that.
Christmas makes me want to go back to what was and I know that is dumb, it’s not possible. What is possible is learning to build new traditions and new history. What is possible is sitting next to Marty and holding her hand and feeling the warmth of her skin next to mine. What is possible is watching this miracle of woman touch her children in ways she couldn’t have before the strokes. What is possible is writing a new book of our life.
Years from now I know we will look back at these days and be warmed by the memory of what was.
We do have warmth.