I’m writing this in a hotel bar while my kids drop off to sleep after 11 hours in a hellish car ride, so please forgive the roughness of its writing.
Every year, there’s a little joke in my family. I begin complaining fairly soon after Thanksgiving that I’m not enough in the Christmas spirit. That this is the year the magic will finally not appear in me, for me or around me enough to feel like something special has come to pass on what is, quite frankly, a tricky enough holiday for me to feel happy about.
My paternal grandmother (Grammy) died on a Christmas morning. We got the call as I opened a Transformers walkie talkie set that looked like Soundwave. I never wanted to play with the toy, but now it stands as the only thing from that Christmas I remember getting.
My parents refused to let us discuss the death while we were at the traditional celebration that night with my extended family on my mother’s side. My parents very directly said that the announcement would affect everyone else’s Christmas, in effect making it something sad and not about what it was supposed to be about. I have no idea if they honored this themselves but I kept my mouth shut and we left early the next morning to go take care of what had to be taken care.
And yet, Christmas rallied. Despite other extended family related to my dad dying in successive years at Christmas time (Christmas Eve among it), my parents made sure we kept having happy days full of love and cheer. Honestly, it was probably one of their greatest achievements.
However, Christmas cheer took another hit after my mom died. I’ve written about it before, but there were a number of sweet traditions that are now distant memories that someday I’ll recount to my own kids to make them laugh.
And this year I face the first Christmas without my dad. Of course, the last time I actually saw my dad on Christmas itself was about three years ago as of this writing. That’s kind of depressing in and of itself.
My dad had his own sweet traditions with Christmas and even concocted a code that my brother and I never cracked that he used to mark which presents were ours under the tree when we still sat there with him on Christmas morning…all the way into adulthood. My theory is that he actually just put gibberish character combinations on the packages and remembered which gifts he put where. He loved to do stuff like that.
So I won’t lie. It’s gotten progressively harder to get into the spirit. And this year, though I will do my best to shelve it, I will feel a pang of sadness that I can’t even call my dad that day and hear his voice. That just sucks, because it will be a very real reminder that he is gone forever (or at least until I see him on the other side). I will have to miss him every day for the rest of my life, but especially at holidays.
It will remind me of the musical film Scrooge, one of my dad’s favorites, when the Ghost of Christmas Present warns, “There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you’re not here any more.”
So it’s that lesson that has gotten me finally into the spirit. The spirit of the season isn’t saccharine greeting cards and dramatic presentations. It’s remembering that we have to make the time, at any cost, to embrace the light in a world of too little time and not enough joy.
All those years ago my dad had every reason to mourn his mother and make no secret of it. But he decided instead to let everyone else enjoy one more day without worrying about him. Some people think that’s old fashioned and out of place in today’s world. Frankly, I think it’s a lesson with an impact I never truly realized until now. There are others – especially two little girls with sugarplum dreams – who benefit more from happy memories than a mourning father.
And remember to forgive without limit and love without condition. Anything else is a weight around your neck you can’t afford to carry.