In my last post, "Sleep in Heavenly Peace," I wrote of the sadder side of Christmas this year. I find that I am struggling to transition well from being focused on the loss of my Grandpa out of respect and mourning to acknowledging that there was also a joyful side to Christmas this year. Although the holiday was full of sorrow, there were moments of comfort and even excitement as Katie celebrated her fourth Christmas and Eric his first.
As we grow up, we realize that the heart must balance constantly joy and sorrow. We realize we must adapt to this, or we certainly must perish under the weight of losses yet to come. Celebrating the joyful moments in no way diminishes the respect I have for my Grandpa or loyalty I feel toward honoring the various emotions of my family.
In fact, we must celebrate and carry on with our traditions, as a means of honoring what came before.
The traditions and time together are the tidings of comfort and joy.
Because Grandpa Yoder had been making small improvements the day before, no one predicted on Christmas Eve morning the events of later that night. Our Christmas Eve morning was festive, and we were looking forward to dressing up and seeing our family as we normally do for dinner at The Ritz in Newport Beach. We thought we would see Grandpa Yoder before dinner. Even though I worried that it might be the last time we spoke, the mood among family was hopeful that we might be able to have him with us a little longer. So our morning was relatively light.
I was thrilled to have my own set this year, (a result of an amazing sale and a Macy's gift card) as I grew up on it and it brings back happy memories. My late Uncle Eric's tidbit tray was my first piece of Spode, and it is in the center of my table.We honor those who will always be a part of us.
This picture is really poignant for me. In the middle of dressing up in our fancier, more formal clothes for Christmas Eve dinner, my mom called and told me that Grandpa Yoder had taken a turn for the worse and that we needed to come to the hospital as soon as we could. In retrospect, it seems silly that I had the kids and Bill and myself still in our dinner clothes, but there was still hope that the situation would turn back around...and hope is never something to take for granted. Here, Katie is in her dinner dress, sprinkling our yard with our reindeer food. It was the only picture I took all night; there are none of Eric's first Christmas Eve. What really pulls at my heart is that my mom gave this dress to Katie as a gift over a year ago. It was too big last Christmas, even though the coat fit, and so we saved the for this Christmas... All month we talked about wearing it and how we would have dinner with our family and listen to the carolers in the restaurant again. So different from the reality of the evening...
Although my Bill, Katie, and Eric ate at the hospital, I was not the least bit hungry for most of the night...until we left. The knots in my stomach crashed down to a wave of hunger. Christmas Eve dinner for me was drive-thru McDonald's. Now, I enjoy McDonald's as much as anyone, but it was lonely and late and not what we had been imagining, not the tradition we had had for years...At first it was totally depressing, but the familiar taste of the meal I would have with Dad for lunch sometimes as a child actually turned out to be comforting on the car ride home.
On Christmas morning, Katie was excited to find that Santa had eaten most of our cookies, left bite marks in some, and guzzled all of his egg nog. She also discovered that Santa had tracked in some soot onto our hearth...and left a footprint in a pile of it. She thought that was pretty cool.
We opened our Santa gifts early on Christmas morning and then went to my mom and dad's house in our pajamas for a second Christmas morning with Uncle David and Aunt Ashley. I think of this year as the "Retro Christmas": Bill gifted me with the 2010 Holiday Barbie, an autoharp a la 1970s music teachers (I love it!!!), a necklace inscribed with the kiddos' names, and more. My mom and dad gave me a 1980s Speak and Spell from eBay---it was my FAVORITE toy for awhile growing up. I was thankful to receive cross stitch supplies and projects to do from my mom, and there were many other blessings. Even our Christmas dinner planned for my house was full of the "retro" and traditional food we used to have at my childhood Christmases once upon a time.
There was joy even in the midst of the grief. And no, the joy wasn't in the presents---really neat-o presents this year that would have been even more fun to open any other year. The joy was in the fact that we still carried through our some of our traditions, that Santa could still come, that Katie was still excited. The greatest gifts this year were the closeness of our family, of working through cooking a Christmas meal that few of us felt like eating and actually laughing at how poorly we were executing it (my mom and I actually decent cooks, but we were really really off our game this year---in fact, we made SO many errors it was fairly hilarious). There can be laughter at ourselves even in the hardest moments. We were reminded of the very basic things we ought to be thankful for: family, love, shelter, food, time together.
Gather the joy in whatever way you can...