So, prior to November 23rd, The Plan (filed under “Avoiding Holidays at Home Part 2”) had been to celebrate Thanksgiving at my brother’s house (which Sarah and I ultimately did while Steve stayed with his mom in the hospital), and then to go to Minnesota – where Steve’s brother lives – for Christmas, taking my MIL along for what was being billed as “probably her last trip.”
After her fall/broken hip, we were still thinking we could go to MN, just without her. We had non-refundable tickets. And she was being well-cared for, right? We needed to GO, right?
Although I firmly believe my MIL will outlive us all, Steve became progressively concerned that she was fading as she began her 3rd week of rehab. After going away for a night with some girlfriends, I returned home to find everything was reversed: now his siblings and their families would head east to be here with her. Such great hearts, such kindness.
But now they were coming HERE.
To OUR HOUSE.
Which meant we could not avoid Christmas. Which meant I (the chief planner, decorator, house cleaner, preparer, cook, etc) could not avoid Christmas.
Because, in the words of my therapist, I am “high-functioning” (such a kind way to say “ridiculous over-doer”), I did not fall into a depressed stupor; instead this meant we had to fix every single thing wrong with our house in less than 2 weeks, and actually get Mark’s room in usable condition.
I proceeded to buy a new mattress for the guest room and a used couch for our family room. Steve and I waded into Mark’s room, emotions barely contained, and in 4-5 hours had it ready for visitors. I packed up a box of his engineering things plus some VT spirit wear for Edwin, a young man following in Mark’s footsteps this fall. We even managed to find the emotional fortitude to eject one item of furniture from his room (the old computer hutch that both kids used all their young lives). We hired an electrician to fix lights in the kitchen, outlets in the family room and to wire in new reading lights in the guest room. We created a second bedroom in the basement after clearing out tons and tons of clutter.
Jack, our High Maintenance Cat, took great exception to ALL these changes and proceeded to pee on the couch and attempted the same to the mattress, earning him a long trip to the kennel. The $250 couch – which, to be honest, was too big for the room, but STILL – went to the curb. Stress skyrocketed.
During my quiet time one morning, I recognized a couple things: (1) giving Mark’s stuff away to Edwin was one of those good/awful things that, in and of itself, was enough…enough weight to bear in my soul for a week or longer, adding to the heaviness we already felt; (2) that acting on anxiety never works for me…the frantic atmosphere in my mind and soul was propelling me to do too much and for the wrong reasons. We got done what we had been talking about doing, home-maintenance-wise, for quite some time; however, none of it HAD to get done for our guests, for our family, to be comfortable. Being together was what mattered (and, as it turned out, no one sat in the family room once, during that time).
Although I drew the line at putting up a tree, we did put lights in the bushes out front, which I love, and I hung the stockings on the fireplace, and put up a few Christmas decorations.
And it was, in the end, both very good (for Sally, for her family) and very, very hard (for us three). Sarah was weepy at times; I chose to do my crying in the early hours, before others arose. I was horrified to realize, after everyone left and the dust settled, that I’d failed, in the midst of the busy-ness and running back and forth, to do a “suggested activity for grieving people” and ask all those aunts and uncles and cousins to write notes to Mark that we could put in his stocking and pull out next Christmas. This still bothers me.
I do tend to think God wanted it this way — Christmas had to be at our house, we needed to face it and go through it. Next year maybe it will be just a little easier, or at least less tinged with deep, deep sadness.