Christmas is not a huge deal at our house. Most years, I don't put up a tree. It's not a bah, humbug kind of thing. It is a simple question of sanity.
When Sam was two, and I was raising him alone, I bought a tree with him in my arms, tied the tree to the top of my car while Sam cried in his car seat, and pushed the tree into my small one bedroom apartment with one hand while carrying an unhappy, tired Sam with the other. Once the tree was in our apartment, the needles already starting to fall all over the floor, I decided that my peace of mind around Christmas is more important than any tree.
That decision has informed my (minimal) Christmas traditions for the past 14 years. I only do the theatrics of Christmas to the point where I can still be sane. Which, for most years, has meant a pretty minimal event. Usually, in lieu of a tree, I have bought a nice houseplant, put some Christmas decorations on it, purchased a few presents, and called it good. Some years I hang a few lights.
Sam still loves Christmas.
This year, I put up a tree. David carried it down the block and helped me fix it in the stand.
When I woke on Christmas morning, FIVE MONTHS was the first thing that blared in my mind. I just stayed in bed, as I usually do these days, and thought about Nathaniel.
Sam came to rouse me at 9:30, He was excited to open his presents.
He was supposed to be in Chicago with his father this year for Christmas. After weeks of agony, I decided that I just couldn't handle him being away for Christmas day this year. Anniversary days bring the despair anew, and I could anticipate that having Sam in Chicago might make my Christmas even more desperate.
Had Nathaniel lived, had he been a normal, healthy baby, it would have been much easier to send Sam to Chicago. I would have been busy with my baby. I don't know if I would have had the time or energy to put up a tree or hang lights on the house because I would be nursing Nathaniel and washing diapers and feeding myself and bonding.
When I finally got out of bed on Christmas morning, I wondered if I had slept on my shoulder wrong, because I had a sharp pain in my back, just under my left shoulder blade, behind my heart. It took me a few minutes to recognize this location and pain as the same one that haunted me for months just after Nathaniel died. It's the pain that catches my breath and keeps me from taking a full inhale. The one my massage therapist has pressed and poked and kneaded while I sob on the table.
On Christmas day, with Nathaniel five months gone, this point was RAGING.
I've wondered if it's a shard of my heart, maybe lodged next to a nerve. Heart shrapnel.
We opened presents. I made quinoa pancakes. Sam was happy.
David and I went back into our bedroom. I still couldn't fully breathe. I looked at Nathaniel's pictures, my beautiful, beautiful baby, sitting on the dresser still full of his clothes, and I started wailing. David held me for a while and just let me cry.
After, my back felt a little bit better, and I could breathe a little bit more easily.
I thought about going to a yoga class, just to have the ritual, and to be present with myself. But the prospect of opening the front door, walking out of it, and driving to the studio was too overwhelming, and I felt so alone at just the thought of it.
So we all stayed close. A lot of sitting on the sofa, reading, and watching a bit of TV. Waiting for the minutes to tick by. My crying intermittently. We all watched Love Actually Christmas night, David with his arm around me, Sam next to me with his feet on my leg. I was held like this, and I cried intermittently, randomly.
On the morning of December 26th, Sam left for Chicago.