The scene would be...
Christmas Eve was typically the highlight of our family's Christmas celebration. Sure the kids would love their Christmas mornings with presents sprawled all over the place, but nothing compared to just being together at my parent's house celebrating Christmas Eve year after year.
We'd have our traditional feast of tamales, rice and beans, plenty of cookies and my dad's famous two-toned fudge. We also would do a white elephant gift exchange game--and let me tell you--this game progressed to be a very serious and focused tradition. Somehow, year after year we'd need yet another explanation of how the game was played, and of course there was always confusion, lots of noise, and plenty of over explaining by Jay...but eventually we'd get going and it was always a chaotic blast. Those are precious memories now that we all hold more dear than ever before. I know it'll take some time for us to work our way back to playing our game again and continuing our tradition, but time will help us get there. It's something I want to continue because it's such a special reminder of Jay's presence, and where for a time some things might sting, I'm also finding that they can be my greatest comforts.
Flash forward to Christmas 2013...
This Christmas I had a plan. It was a good plan I thought. With the loss of Jay and the quickly approaching Christmas Day, I thought it would be best to protect myself and my family from the pain of enduring this first Christmas without him. My plan? Vegas, baby! That's right, Vegas. Bright lights, busy action, shows, fast pace, noise, don't sleep, don't think, and let's not forget BUFFETS!! Yep, that was my great plan. We'd leave on Christmas morning so that we'd be too busy to "feel" on Christmas Eve because we'd be packing and getting ready for our trip, and since it was something so over the top different, we were all looking forward to it.
My mom still wanted us to come over on Christmas Eve and decided it wouldn't be so hard if we switched it up a bit. Of course we wouldn't be playing the White Elephant game, and we got together earlier than usual. It was more of a noon-time gathering so we could all get home early and get ready for Las Vegas. I liked the idea.
We were keeping busy, it was all going good until...
I had developed a pain in my back on Christmas Eve on the way to my parents house. "Okay, no big--I'll just try to stretch it out," I thought. Not the case. By evening it hurt to breathe and the pain had moved from my shoulder blade area to my side rib. I didn't know what was going on, but I had been coughing for a straight month at this point and feared that there was some kind of a connection. We got home that night and although the pain was increasing, I had the highest hopes that I would wake up healed and be on my way to Vegas the next morning. Instead, the pain became somewhat crippling to my movement and I knew I had to do the right thing, cancel our trip. I was really set back by this. After all, I had the perfect plan; our Christmas Vegas trip was going to protect us and help us cope with this difficult time without Jay. But circumstances stopped the process and I had to surrender to what I had no control over.
Another family tradition of ours is that I make snowman pancakes on Christmas morning, and no matter how bad I was hobbling around the house that morning, this was one thing we weren't going to give up. I cooked up our holiday breakfast and then we decided that we would go to Jay's grave site later that afternoon. I hadn't been to his grave site since his birthday in August--it's kind of a hard place to go--but I felt a great peace and a need to be there all of a sudden; now that Vegas was off we could take our time and leave when we felt ready.
When we pulled up to the cemetery so much went through my mind. I
thought about the day of the funeral. I look back on that day and feel
like I floated through it in a way. It still feels sometimes like I'm
looking at someone else's life and not my own, but walking up to his
grave lifts all that fog away and It becomes so real again. I felt the
feelings of disbelief, the need to get down on the ground and get as
close as possible to him, the desire to turn the clock somehow and bring
him back, and then the acceptance of what is. I felt all that in the
short walk to his grave.
My parents had been taking care of it and had decorated it with a
Christmas tree and flowers. It was beautiful. It gave him such honor,
and showed how loved he was. I so appreciate that they're doing what I
can't right now.
My sister-in-law Dar was originally going to be out of town for
Christmas but it didn't work out so she unexpectedly was having her
usual Christmas Day open-house. The kids had decided after going to the
grave site that they would go over there to spend some time with her,
and I had decided that I would part with them and head home so that I
could rest my back.
We stayed at Jay's site for a while--and then it was time to go. As we were walking back to the car, I
felt good. I suddenly felt full of energy and decided
that I would go to my sister-in-laws house with the kids. It surprised
even me because I had been pretty determined to get home and rest, but I
just had a need to see her and stay together as a family. I figured I
could just go for a little bit, say hi, and get home.
My son Ryan was ahead of us in his car and pulled up to Dar's street first. We pulled up just a few minutes after him, and to all of our surprise almost every one of Jay's side of the family was there in her front yard. There was Dar and Tammy [Jay's sister's], my niece and nephew [Tammy's kids] and Herb and Bob. We didn't expect to see all of them and they didn't expect to see all of us! It turns out that a turn of events orchestrated this great union. My niece and nephew were actually leaving when a couple of loose dogs sidetracked them. If this didn't happen They would have been gone already and we would have missed them. Tammy and Bob were about to leave as well. They were just waiting to see my daughter Heather who was almost there. Nobody knew we were coming since we were supposed to be on our way to Vegas. But now here we were, all of us together, on Christmas Day. Talk about a Christmas miracle!
We all made our way into Dar's house and began to mingle, and the joy in the air was amazing. We were all so happy to be together. This very thing that I was trying to avoid by keeping myself occupied and busy, protecting myself from having to "feel" too much, was in fact giving me so much unexpected comfort and pleasure. I could feel Jay in the room and I could see him. It was precious, not just to me, but to us all. We all felt it.
Jay's sister Tammy is his twin and although I never noticed it before Jay passed away, what I can see now is that he's there in the corner of her eyes. She smiles and and I can literally see him for a moment. He's in her heart, and I get to see it every time she laughs. And then there's his sister Dar. They're so much alike. Dar does this thing where she likes to hold out on information and reveal it in kind of childlike, mischievous surprise. When she does this, she gets a look on her face and everyone will ask what she's up to and she won't say it until she's ready. The more we beg, the more she proudly holds back with a smirky grin that always seems to get us going. It's endearing, and it's exactly what Jay used to do. Her and Jay shared the same playful side, and when she acts like that I can literally feel him in the room. Being with our niece Rachel and our nephew Josiah, Jay loved them so much. They had Jay's heart, and when I'm around them, I feel him because of it.
All of this joy in the air called for a toast. Dar poured some Ouzo And we all stood, raised our glasses and honored Jay. It was such a great moment. We all loved him so much, and we were all together, and we were all reminding each other of him because he's a part of us all.
Yes, my great plan was interupted, but thankfully my Father knows best. Jerimiah 29:11says, For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. This is what my God has for me.
God is good...