Without a Christmas Tree

There are a few things I know for certain about Christmas for me. I’ll get a shock from those reindeer with the moving heads each time I see them, I’ll look out the window every day in hopes of snow and suddenly everything will seem like it’s a good idea and price to buy.


But mostly, I’ll miss my mom. Whenever “Little Drummer Boy” starts to play on my NOW! Christmas youtube playlist, I have to skip the song or risk the afternoon in tears. “Sorrow comes in waves”, a friend who’d lost someone too told me in high school. There isn’t a better metaphor for my experience. From the sudden crash of gallons of sorrow suddenly knocking you over and threatening to sweep you into a sea of depression to the painless tickling of sorrow that wet just the toes of emotions. But like waves, there’s no end. As soon as one wave ends, another begins. At the beginning, they’re all large enough that at sometimes you don’t know if you’re up. Later, you’ve either learned to use some of the surfboards of distraction to help you ride the waves or you’ve swum out from shore to not feel them anymore and have lost your way. This is my eight Christmas without my mom and at this point, most of the time the waves are too small to notice. And then at Christmas, they begin to swell again.


Cologne,  Germany
Cologne, Germany

Christmas meant everything to my mom. I still have her diamond candy cane earrings that she would wear for her patients as their nurse. With four kids, she had every Christmas tradition ready to do with us even before we had put our Halloween costumes away. We baked and decorated Christmas cookies (icing could still be found under the dining room table as late as the following Easter), we rang bells for the Salvation Army at the mall or Target (but once I hit eleven, I refused to put on the red vest. As if.) and each of us played a star role in our church’s Christmas Eve service. I would say I hit my stride at  3 months old, when I went from playing Baby Jesus to various livestock and camel related roles.


My favorite tradition was our Christmas tree. My mom saved every ornament we ever made and by the end of trimming, our tree looked like a commercial for a preschool. But I loved it. My favorite ornament, however, was one of my parents. Growing up, I thought my parents were the most romantic and happiest couples in the world. They grossed us out constantly with smooching in the kitchen and butt-paddling walking by. Their first ornament together was from their honeymoon and I loved thinking about what my parents had been like as newlyweds. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to be in as much love as they were that I would want to save every trinket from our life to put on our Christmas tree.  


Overlook from Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle's Nest), Königssee, Germany
Overlook from Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest), Königssee, Germany

But that first Christmas just as few months after she died, there wasn’t a tree. I was 17, still a kid, but at that time I thought I was being childish for missing something as trivial as a Christmas tree. I know now that I didn’t miss the Christmas tree, I was missing the family that had once surrounded that tree. Memory plays funny tricks on you, I don’t remember what we did for that Christmas at all. Probably because it wasn’t really Christmas after all.


That was eight years ago and every Christmas since then I’ve been living at a different address. For the last four years, that’s been the military life but before then I was swimming in the waves of sorrow a little too far out from shore and I was lost. I was doing all the things that would, on paper, make it seem like my mother’s death hadn’t affected me at all. That I was strong, resilient… numb. That’s cowardly. Anyone can avoid and deny. It takes strength to trust the world enough to feel again. For the first four years, I was too afraid of feeling to celebrate Christmas at all.


I’m looking around right now at our packed bags. We’re taking a road trip, from Germany to Portugal, over the Christmas block leave. I’m not worried that this is another route of avoidance; Dusty and I are molding our own traditions of Christmas time, like my parents had molded theirs. My mother’s gift to me each year over Christmas time is in those waves of sorrow; my mother taught me to celebrate, drink in and love Christmas and to let Christmas make you happy. And now each Christmas, I do. Dusty and I watch the classics (but Jim Carrey’s The Grinch is my favorite), smooch in the glow of downtown Christmas lights and since living in Germany, drink Gluwine at Christmas markets. We do celebrate one of my mom’s traditions, however. Every year we’ve been married, I’ve collected our own ornaments from the adventures of our life. My mom taught me that Christmas is all about love, the kind where you smile and squeeze the person you have in our life and smile and cry for that person you lost.  


Bruges, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night

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