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Friday, December 25, 2015

That Was the Christmas Without . . .

This has been a difficult month for me. I expected that. It's been eleven months since Floyd died, and between Thanksgiving and January come too many special occasions to count -- memories of trips taken and planned, his birthday, our wedding anniversary, holidays, the "heart attack" day, the hospital stays, the hopes built up, and the hopes dashed and trampled into dust. I'm trying to survive each day, one at a time.

Today is Christmas, although there's not much here to remind me except for the wreath on the door and the reindeer antlers on the car. Still, I awoke this morning with a dozen memories struggling for recognition -- each one from a "Christmas Without . . ."

1958 -- the first Christmas after my father died. I'm home from college, my mother is barely speaking to me because I dared to pay my own way to go back to school, and the empty, undecorated house is a stark reminder that she feels she has been left with nothing.

1962 -- Christmas far from home. I'm married, and my new Air Force Lieutenant husband has just been assigned to his first posting, a radar installation in Moses Lake, Washington. We are living in a single room in the BOQ on base, waiting for housing to open up. No tree, no gifts, no family, not even a cat.

1963 -- Housing taken care of,  I have a teaching job, but Floyd has been whisked off to a remote mountain top in Alaska for a year, leaving me alone here in the middle of the desert.  My mother is unsympathetic. "You chose to get married," she says.

1969 -- I'm in Panama City, Florida; Floyd is in Pleiku, Vietnam. My mother tries to be more sympathetic since its wartime, so she has arrived to celebrate the holidays with me. I've put up an artificial tree and tied Christmas bows around the cats' necks, but we spend most of the time watching TV reruns while I wait for the phone to ring.

1977 -- The first Christmas since my mother died -- still trying to explain to my six-year-old why Grandma Peggy is not around any more (and why it matters that we keep remembering her.)

1980 -- I'm in Colorado Springs; Floyd is in King Salmon, Alaska. He's the base commander now, and I'm finishing up a master's degree, but the sense of "Christmas without . . ." is no less sharp. I'm trying to assemble a cat climbing post that uses a tension pole to hold it upright. Next door is a shiny new bike waitng for me to assemble without help, once Doug is asleep.

1982 -- The first Christmas without Grandpa Schriber. We go back to Cleveland for Christmas, but my mother-in-law is in no mood to celebrate anything.

1985 -- The first Christmas without Grandma Schriber. Doug asks, "We don't have to go back there again, do we?" and is relieved to be told that there is no longer any "there" to be returned to. I feel oddly bereft -- Floyd and I both orphans now, both only children, so adrift without family.

2000 -- The first Christmas since Doug's shocking death from cancer. We can't bear to be home, so we fly to London for the holidays. We're in a cold hotel room, huddled around a little space heater,  a spindly poinsettia on the end table and a packet of mince pies for our Christmas. But outside there are the makings of beautiful memories: carolers in Trafalgar Square, "The Messiah" at St. Martin's in the Fields, midnight services on Christmas Eve in Westminster Abbey, and Christmas snow falling on Old Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

2015  -- And now Christmas without Floyd. The first of however many I have left, and I pause to wonder what the last half century has taught me. What I see this morning, as I look backward, is that I have few memories of the carefree years, the holidays full of decorations and cookies and fruitcakes, Christmas cards and Secret Santa packages, parties and turkey dinners. They were happy times, I know, but I let them pass without fully savoring the moments. And those memories fade from lack of notice. It's the "Christmases Without . . ." that fill my mind and my heart.

We've all been reminded to "count our blessings," and I'm totally in favor of that, but I don't think it goes far enough. We also need to stay aware of our losses. The losses, the Christmases Without . . .. the things we grieve for . . .these are the most important moments of our lives. There's no hiding from them. They are part of our core. So I'll count my losses, too, and be grateful that I've known them.

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