Christmas was not welcomed with open arms this year. Cards did not go out. My tree committed suicide (stopped drinking its water). My Christmas spirit was nowhere to be found.
I talked about it with a couple friends. I sounded whiney. "I don't have a family now, I have a fragment." It's just my mom, my son, and me. (And my ex-husband, who is legally not my family any more, as of March 29th of this year, but still and somewhat awkwardly part of my daily life.) With my dad here, we were enough of a family that it all seemed worth doing. Without him, it just felt completely empty and pathetic. For the first year ever, there was no tree at my parents' house, and so there would be no presents under a tree for me. I'm an only child, so presents under the tree for me is what I'm used to, even at 42 years old. My mother filled a stocking for me up until this year.
Holidays are hard after you lose someone, this is a universal truth. Their absence is everywhere. And for me, his absence is more than a hole. It's like a tectonic shift, where a whole piece of the continent broke off and what's left is not recognizable as the former mainland. It's a new place entirely, foreign and lacking.
So, if you're thinking, c'mon, you have a 7-year-old son, you have to step up to the plate here and be an adult, for him ... don't worry, that is in fact what I did. He had a decorated house and tree, a stocking, presents, the whole shebang. On Xmas eve, we put out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. (He put out our entire container of Xmas cookies, and I asked him "don't you want to save some for us for tomorrow?" So he grabbed paper and pencil and wrote: "Santa pleas dont eat all the cookies." Then he ran back and added: "you can eat most of the cookies").
It turns out that while I was whining, and dreading Christmas, and shoving myself up to that proverbial plate, angels were at work.
First angel intervention: A couple weeks ago, I went careening off an icy road with my little guy in the back seat, and somehow steered us between a telephone pole and a steel cable with a grand total of about 3 inches on either side of us. And came gently to a stop against a broken sign post, which cracked my parking light.
Next, a special person who seems to care a lot about me (and felt bad that he was going away when I needed people and care even more than usual) left me with a bag of presents to put under my tree. Presents under my tree for me. Okay, maybe he's not an angel, but that was angelic behavior for sure. (For shizzle, to use my new Yiddish ebonics.)
This brings us to Christmas Eve morning. Around 9am, my smoke alarms went off. No fire, but I could not make them stop. They are brain-rattling, piercing, shoot-me-now smoke alarms. I called the fire department. "Um, sorry to bother you, but how do you turn off smoke alarms?" They sent a truck. It turns out that my little man hit one of the alarms on the ceiling with a ball and it caused a wire to dislodge. He was upset, sobbing, afraid that the firemen would yell at him. He hid in my closet. Three very nice firemen came inside, stopped the racket pronto, replaced all my batteries, coaxed little guy out of the bedroom, and gave him a cuddly stuffed dalmation. Sniffling and embarrassed, he said thanks and gave the guys high-fives. Then, in a nice Disney movie moment, the guys got a call on their walkie-talkie and had to rush out, change into their gear in our driveway while we watched from the porch, and go zipping away in their truck, sirens blaring, waving, to a real emergency.
As if that weren't quite enough and something else was needed, later I discovered that my car battery was dead. My battery has never died before. Friends (who are practically family) were with us for brunch, and they had jumper cables (why don't I?) so the two of them pushed my car out of the garage as I steered, and we got it started in minutes.
In recent weeks, I've been talking to my dad (I talk in my head to him, and then agonize over the possibility that he can only hear me when I talk out loud)... and instead of just the usual crying and saying how much I miss him, I've been asking him if he'd be willing to give me a sign. I asked that he just make it loud and clear so I wouldn't miss it or wonder if it was really a sign. If you were the angel version of my dad (and many would say he was already an angel when he was here walking around among us), and your daughter asked for a sign that was loud and clear, might you not just go ahead and set off the smoke alarms on Xmas eve morning?
So there were presents -- and there was presence -- for me under my tree and all around this Christmas. I have angels in my midst, and I think I can do this now.