Sunday, December 28, 2014

Did you get my Christmas letter?

" For, lo, the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold, when with the ever-circling years, comes round the age of gold...":

"Come on, donkey, you can come in. Hi, King, you have a big vase.."

"...three types of muscle cells are smooth, Connecticut, and apple cereal..."

"...reunification of upper and lower Egypt by feral mayonnaise..."

Back in the day, back in my "before" time, I did a Christmas letter every year.  I really enjoyed the process of crafting a series of word-pictures of life around here: a reflection on some obscure verse of a Christmas carol, some funny things the kids said, a line or two about my latest misadventures and a determinedly cheerful report about Andre's activities.  There was a year when my description of the kids' latest homeschooling recitation included the term "feral mayonnaise" (um... Pharoah Menes, anyone?) --homeschooled kids say the darndest things, don't they?  And there was always a photo --often just the kids, but sometimes all six of us, in the Andre days.

And then everything changed in July, 2012, and I gave myself permission to pretty much skip anything Christmasy that felt like too much: hence, no letter, only the decorations that the kids wanted put up, including a real tree for the first time in many years, only the things that could be accomplished in short spurts of energy as I found it.  It was a decidedly odd Christmas, full of strange, poignant moments, but also some moments of genuine light.  I was still, in some ways, mostly numb, mostly still in shock.  But there weren't many demands placed on me that year.  We had tons of support -- one dear couple played Secret Santa to my kids and granted them wonderful wishes, our adopted clan of friends made sure we had someplace to be for Christmas day dinner.  We got through Christmas and bounced into the New Year with help from more of our adopted family, and I congratulated myself that we'd done it.  We'd survived our first Christmas post-loss and it would all get easier from here.

Christmas of 2013 had its moments of "this is just too much" as well as moments of genuine joy.  I'd been in school for more than 6 months, the kids appeared to be doing ok, as far as I could tell.  (It turns out I was missing a few clues, and things weren't quite so rosy.) I managed at one point in December to get all the kids into a photograph, print out those photo cards at Costco, and begin writing a Christmas letter... but I never got it done.  I promised myself, "next year, for sure".

And here we are at Christmas 2014, three Christmases after Andre's death, and I still haven't found the energy to come up with a Christmas letter.  It feels a little like the first two Christmases were perhaps a bit anesthetized by the lingering shock, and then this year, I got hit with the "blah', as in "shock and blah" (apologies to those Bush-era survivors who know what phrase I'm butchering).  I made a sincere effort this year -- I bought a tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving, the same weekend on which I made a visit to a dying friend, to be part of what was her very last party here on earth  (I'm sure she's now hosting some sparkling gatherings in Heaven, though.) And once I got the tree home that first Sunday in Advent, I asked the now-6-feet-tall teenager to hang the outdoor Christmas lights on the front of the house.  The tree eventually made it inside the house a few days later, and decorations happened, in bits and pieces over the next few days: ornaments, manger scenes, Santa Claus figures, a wreath on the door.  I made up a couple batches of my mom's Hermit recipe, and some Spritz cookies... and none of it felt in the slightest bit meaningful or real, but I did it and hoped that I would eventually warm to the season that I've always loved.  As in the past, there were moments of joy and light --mostly in the music that I sing with my beloved choir folks, but also in re-introducing my youngest child to "Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree"--my childhood favorite book.  But still no "magic" for me... just a quiet acknowledgment that there is good to be found, and sometimes it's just "good", but not wonderful.  Maybe my super-enthusiastic self is growing up a bit. 

Somehow, we got to Christmas Day, and it was truly much, much lovelier than I could have hoped for, with a few simple gifts, kids who woke up in much better moods than the ones they'd shown the night before, and capped off by an evening Christmas dinner with the gathering of friends who have adopted us as family for the past few years.  My kids and I are truly blessed.  I have nothing to complain about.  We celebrated Christmas surrounded by good people who have become our family.  We made it through another Christmas with some help and the tincture of time. 

And then yesterday, December 27th, well before the unofficial "end" of the Christmas season--New Year's Day, I was suddenly just DONE with the tree, the clutter, and the feeling that I should be doing more to make it festive around here.  So, after checking-in with two of the four kids and getting their permission, I gave up waiting for the magical feelings to arrive.   I took the tree down and began putting away the holiday clutter, including the various shapes and sizes of nativity scenes that I have collected over the years.  I just longed to be able to re-arrange the furniture, to clean up the pine needles, to put away the kitschy stuff and think about how I'd like to enter 2015.  

Just before I cleaned up my favorite manger scene, it looked roughly like this:
 As I picked up the kings and the shepherds and began wrapping them in their tissue-paper padding,  I began to think about the words of a poem by Howard Thurman, that I sang with my choir folks this season: 

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart

-The Work of Christmas, by Howard Thurman

So, as my shepherds and kings, sheep, camels, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and all the others go back into their tissue-filled home boxes for another 11 months, maybe it's time for me to quit wishing I'd feel the magic of Christmas, and to start thinking about the ways I could be doing The Work of Christmas.  

All packed up and ready to go in the plastic tote for another year. Let the work of Christmas begin ! 
I've always been way better with an assignment that is practical and concrete, anyway.  

 Merry Christmas, dear ones who read this.  And all my best wishes for a 2015 that is filled with love, with life and with the ability to appreciate what is all around us in each shining moment we have.

And please forgive me that, once again, there's no Christmas letter from me in your mailboxes.  Maybe next year. 


  1. You dear friend: your LIFE is my Christmas Letter. Being witness to your heart-filled journey is the most Spirit-pointing guide I'll ever receive in this world. Thank you, friend.

  2. Brett,
    You are a light, dear friend. Thank you.