There’s nothing quite like the “hangover” known as the day after Christmas. Four weeks of preparation come to an abrupt end, trees dry up and litter the carpet with needles, tryptophan kicks in, and football lures us in for around the clock lethargy dressed in athleticism. After all of that sluggishness and sloth, it takes an earthquake of cataclysmic proportion to create household momentum once again.
This is going to sound strange, but I had an amazing Christmas. I had an amazing Christmas even though Husband was gone. I had an amazing Christmas even though I faked my way through the day in a hallucinogenic haze induced by a neurologic swill of leftover NyQuil and incoming DayQuil. I had an amazing Christmas even though there was a moment to moment battle in my mind as I simultaneously experienced the peace of the golden lights on the tree, the ecstasy of children opening gifts they only dreamed of, and the horror of the ticker-tape paper parade that was overtaking my livingroom floor. Just a few moments into the chaos we had the good fortune to Skype with Husband for the best 20 minutes of unwrapping. We lost the sound, but we had a chance to open each others’ gifts. We gave a “thumbs up” and smiled and blew kisses. I was ever thankful that despite the thousands of miles we could still at least share these moments in this amazing digital age.
At our Christmas Eve church service I held The Preschooler in my arms because he was being particularly snuggly. My back was sore and my feet hurt from a day of Christmas preparations, and we had been standing up singing carols far too long for a thirty-something year old girl in heels to bear, but I could not put him down for the longest time. I know how tragically short and numbered those moments are.
We swayed to the music and he wrapped his legs around me more tightly. He was softly pressing his cheek against mine, rubbing it softly back and forth. He placed his hand on my other cheek, and listened intently to my voice as I sang. I lowered my voice and sang more softly as he pressed his ear closer to my mouth, and I wondered if this memory would imprint itself deep in his mind. I wondered if he would remember the sound of his mother’s voice long after I had gone. I closed my eyes as I sang. I too listened for a voice.
I imagined Husband’s soft voice, singing next to me in the church.
Husband doesn’t sing loud, and he doesn’t sing often, but when he does, he sings beautifully. But don’t tell. The last public singing he did was possibly twenty some years ago as the fearless leader of the “Singing Head Crew” at AOCS. The only offspring of an amazing opera singer, Husband spent many hours in practice halls at The Met or traveling across Germany to the beautiful opera houses of Europe. He can barely tolerate a flat note or a breathy shrill and completely underestimates his own voice. The only songs he knows from memory are “Nessun Dorma” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” And by the way he gets the words wrong on the latter every single time.
But he does sing, for me, sometimes. And sometimes in church I stop singing and I listen to his voice. Sometimes.
So as I stood on Christmas Eve with The Preschooler’s cheek pressed to mine, thinking of my husband’s beautiful voice, it was suddenly time for “Silent Night.” As the song started, the years of tradition flooded in. Birthdays, Christmases, School, Vacations … all the days without Dad. All the days without my own Dad. And there was this moment, one lucid moment, when my thoughts became crystal clear. My throat cramped and my heart pulled itself deep into my chest. A wave rushed over me and all at once I felt the black hole of my husband’s absence. Absence for me. Absence for the kids. Absence for him. Tears welled up in my eyes as I turned to look at Sweet Pea.
Even together, we looked so small without him. So incomplete.
But as quickly as I felt the loss of his presence, I immediately felt a rush. I closed my eyes again, tighter this time, and instead of listening for a voice that wasn’t there, I looked forward in time, to his return. To next Christmas. And like a sigh, I exhaled, and as I breathed in, it was the Hope of his return that filled the void.
And like another tsunami of realization, I was reminded that this is exactly what Christmas means. I was reminded that the absence of the little baby in the manger from our lives is not the end of the story. That there is Hope. Hope of return. Hope of promises kept. Hope of being reunited. Hope of being truly happy. And so this Christmas, more than ever before, I had the privilege of experiencing the true joy of Christmas. Not the kind you talk about or read about, but the kind you really feel deep inside.
I’m not sure whether I could have traveled there if it were not for Husband’s absence. But I do know that as this mobilization goes on, with each new adversity I encounter comes understanding and growth. This time I saw it, and I got it, and despite the constant flow of completely legal but questionably administered drugs required in order to function, I had a wonderful Christmas.
And okay, maybe it was mostly the drugs. But probably not. Probably, it was Hope.
So, here’s to this year … but more importantly, here’s to next year.