As always, I’m breathing a little sigh of relief now that Christmas Day has passed. Spending the day with my daughter always keeps me afloat, but the sadness always comes in the waning hours after presents have been unwrapped, food has been stored away, cheerful goodbyes have been said, and I’m all alone with my thoughts.
Staring blankly at the twinkling lights of my tree, I’m suddenly swept back into Christmases past. I see little Mikey’s face lit up with excitement over a new remote control car. I see Susie’s tussled blonde locks cascading over a new pink nightgown, hunkered down with her new Barbie house which she has carefully set up under the tree, now barren of wrapped presents. Both kids keeping an eye on the new Disney video that Santa brought, while playing with their new toys. And me, collapsed on the couch after an all-night assembling episode kept me from getting more than a couple of hours of sleep before Susie scampered out of her bed to wake Mikey and the rest of us at 4 a.m.
“Mikey! Santa Claus came!” Susie would rouse her little brother, and both kids would come bounding down the stairs in jubilation. Mike and I would mumble a garbled agreement over who was going to make the coffee or get the camera.
I remember sitting on the couch at the end of Christmas day and feeling contented and joyful and tired. And worried. Always worried about the future. Always wishing Christmas vacation could go on forever and Mikey didn’t have to go back to school. I hated Mikey going back to school more than Mikey hated it himself. The teasing kids, the thoughtless remarks from some of the teachers, the stress of wondering if Mikey was actually learning the material he was supposed to be learning for his age. Continually worrying about the future, which I believed would stretch out before me with years and years of Christmases with Mikey.
I go back to those Christmases past in my mind, and I wish I could tell that young mother to stop worrying and just enjoy living in that joyful moment. And I’m struck by how death teaches us how to really live.