This year has been a roller coaster that I frankly don’t want to ride again. I’ve lived 32 years with my family in tact. Save for the loss of great grandparents, no more recent than a decade ago, we’ve never lost anyone. If that won’t make you count your blessings I don’t know what will. In a devastating 17 day window this summer, the two, not just grandparents, but human beings I hold nearest and dearest left us. Without warning or a chance to tell them all of the things, they took one last breath and bid this life farewell. I called this season of my life All Of The Dying. I’ve spent a quarter of my year without them and I’m still grappling with how to deal with this, how to process this. I still keep reaching to send my grandpa funny pictures and stories of Paisley, and on Monday mornings I have to remind myself that there is no grandma’s house where I can take Paisley.
I write for therapy, I have since I was a little girl. And the pain around these losses has been so tremendous, so completely overwhelming that I haven’t even known where to begin, how to properly say it, how to do either of those souls the justice they deserve. But then, I guess I did (and maybe I am again). I wrote my grandfather’s eulogy, and I told a church full of strangers what kind of grandmother 28 of us were lucky to have. Both were humbling experiences that were a great honor.
This season, I intend to honor them one more time. I’m boycotting Christmas, at least in the modern traditional sense. I’m not accepting any gifts this year, and I’m not exchanging any either. Instead, this year, me, Shelton, and Paisley are going to celebrate a Christmas with more heart and make it about anyone but ourselves.
Here’s how I arrived at this.
We’ve done the Angel Tree every year; it’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday. Two years ago I realized they have an adult tree, too. And that year I scanned the cards hanging from the tree and consistently saw microwave or blanket written on every card. Grown adults whose only wish in the world was something they could use to stay warm and comforted, or something they could use to prepare food. I bawled. I stood next to those trees picturing the beastly large microwave in my kitchen, the underwhelming stove, and the cabinets and refrigerator bursting with food. And I bawled because I couldn’t help any of them. I’d already burned through my Christmas budget, having sent bottles of wine to people who really didn’t need them and heaping piles of other gifts that were more symbolic than necessary or probably even desired.
Last year, I returned to the Angel Tree and budgeted to help two of the adult angels. New dishes for a single mom of four and new bedding to another woman were distributed and I felt better, but still like there was so much more I could be doing. After all, look at all the things I’d purchased for Shelton alone that, let’s be honest, he didn’t need at all.
Then, Christmas morning, standing in the kitchen with my grandfather, I saw him choke up, fighting tears, as he told a story. This was a first. My grandpa has tears inside?? He told how he’d recently been in the thrift shop in his small hometown where he saw people purchasing used toys and games. He reconciled that they were Christmas shopping for their kids – with worn out used toys – and he couldn’t come to grips with the financial imbalance in the world.
And then, during the week of my grandmother’s passing, as the stories of this 74-year-old spitfire of a woman were spun, I received the final message I needed to commit to my Christmas boycott.
My grandmother was the most impressive woman I’ve ever known. She raised five kids on her own at a time when families were rarely divorced much less had a mother working outside the home. She raised five really amazing kids while working nights at a club. They didn’t have a lot by way of material possessions, but their home was very full. One Christmas, like so many families face, there was just not going to be enough to pull off a holiday full of gifts and surprises like she wanted. But one night, she walked out to her car after work and found it stuffed to the brim with wrapped presents for her five kids. To her dying day she never knew who did it, but their secret generosity was just the Christmas miracle she needed to make a memorable holiday for her little brood.
This year, we’re truly embracing the idea of a season of giving. I’m pulling together my usual Christmas budget, which really isn’t that much anyway, but what I do have, I’m giving away. We’re going to adopt a family who, like my grandmother, would have no other way to see those Christmas morning smiles. We’ve adopted a girl from Carpenter Place (my grandmother loved supporting this organization) who has an impressive wish list. I’m going back to the Angel Tree and I’ll select a card (or hopefully more) from each side of the trees. I’d like to pay off a layaway. I’m donating hats and mittens to Child Start. And I’ll hopefully find a few more ways to make Christmas morning brighter for my neighbors.
I’m not telling anyone this publicly to get some kind of pat on the back or whatever. Please don’t read this as me being some sort of braggart (God knows I probably do enough of that w/ food and my kid). I’m doing this, quite selfishly, for myself. And I’m telling everyone (namely my family) so that when I decline a gift you’ll know why. Through tears and a cracking voice over dinner recently, I told Shelton how committed to this I was. I told him that on Christmas morning, I want to wake up and know that my gift will be a full heart. My gift will be knowing that I don’t want or need for anything, that my family woke up under any number of blankets of their choosing, that our bellies are full and satisfied, and that we are all, mostly, together.
There will be a gaping hole this Christmas morning; two to be exact. But I’m going to try to focus more on the people who are present; those who I can still make memories with, laugh, hug, and love. That will honor my grandparents more than sappy tears falling all over my pigs in a blanket. They were never ever ever the types to feel sorry for themselves, no matter what life dealt them. So I’m not going to feel sorry for myself this year and I’m going to try to make that the case for a few other families, too.
Santa will still visit our house this year because I have a three-year-old and I believe very much in the magic that is Santa. I’ve talked to Paisley about how we’re going to give more this year and she gets very excited – she loves any opportunity we have to help others and always wants to be involved. But I also know that she’s, for all intents and purposes, a very tiny little girl who has been very good this year and wants to have a Christmas morning surprise, too! Heck, I want to give her that! So Santa will be following the Need Want Read Wear rule this year (that I learned about from Suzanne Tobias), and my little tot will receive one thing she wants, one thing she needs, one thing she can read, and one thing she can wear.