It goes without saying that this time of year can be as uplifting as it is heartbreakingly difficult. To me, it has always been a time when I reflect on all of my many Christmas's past, fondly remembering the magic that filled my house when I was a child myself and hoping I am doing a good job recreating that for my own children. Christmas marks the time of year for memories old and new, getting together as a family, going "home" and making a conscious effort to do something kind for others.
Naturally, it is also a time when absence is most obvious. A glaring reminder of our loved ones who are not coming home this time. When memories only remind us of who is missing. Every single person who has lost a loved one can relate to how the missing person in our lives becomes that much more absent - even when we least expect it, we may be knocked over the head with longing. There's just something about that Christmas tree, the smell of cookies, the gingerbread house - that allows the memories to come rushing in.
I miss Ty every second of every day and I don't want to spend tonight reflecting on the immensity of that reality this time of year because I don't think I can bear it. Instead, I want to take a minute to remember my Grandma. As I was preparing packages to bring to my in-laws for Christmas Eve, I was reminded of her. She died just before we lost Ty. She was 94 years old, and I didn't get to mourn her because I was mourning something that much heavier - but today I felt her and I remembered her, and I imagined her laugh and I teared up thinking about her warm kisses on my cheek. It is a very different longing, of course, and I was so happy to dedicate such time to her memory this morning. I loved her so very much, she was such a huge part of my life, and I am grateful for Christmas memories with my Grandma.
Last night, Lou and I finished wrapping, baking, cleaning, and fell into the couch by the Christmas tree at the end of the night. We talked about all of our past Christmases with smiles on our faces, until eventually those smiles turned to painful, gut-wrenching tears (as was inevitable). I love to remember Ty. I allow myself to fall into the dangerous throws of missing him because at least I am feeling him and honoring him. But remembering our most difficult days - his cancer and how he suffered immeasurably - is something that I try to avoid for self-preservation. It is a most slippery slope and the most difficult to recover from. It is what haunts me every night when my head hits the pillow and it drives me to pour my heart and soul into his foundation so I can feel like I am doing something about it. I can't fix what happened to Ty, but maybe for other children in the future.
Ty loved Christmas more than I have ever seen a kid love Christmas. It was beautiful, and we made sure to enjoy it with him. In 2010, we celebrated what was supposed to be his last Christmas - he was home on hospice care for the first time. As you know, we were granted a Christmas miracle that year and the tumors in his spine disappeared spontaneously. By Christmas 2011 we were filled with such tremendous hope! Ty was cancer free and he was recovering so well - until just a week before Christmas when he suffered a post-radiation brain bleed that left his left side partially paralyzed. It was such a tremendous blow, but we were determined not to let it spoil his "Crimpy" and so was he! We made the greatest memories of all that year. I remember it so well and I will forever cherish every minute of Christmas magic. Then, in 2012, he was gone. How is that even possible?
Instead of saying "Merry Christmas" to my friends who wear the same shoes as I do, I wish that tomorrow can bring them a lot of genuine smiles despite the tremendous sense of "nothing" that otherwise consumes us during the holidays. Tonight, I watched Gavin open some gifts and I smiled real smiles the entire time. I watched Lou make Santa's footprints by the fireplace and smiled another real smile remembering how much Ty LOVED that trick (and imagining Gavin's reaction tomorrow morning). I enjoyed a delicious feast with family and I laughed out loud throughout the night.. I watched the biggest, most beautiful snowflakes falling outside and I got lost in the magic of this holiday once more. I will never be able to look at Christmas lights the same way because there is a sting in the tail every time, but I can still enjoy them when the stinging subsides. Life is returning and I am glad I can appreciate all of the beauty that I am surrounded by despite my pain. Cancer didn't take that away. Cancer didn't win.
Whenever I think about the shopping and the commercialism and the frantic stress over exchanging gifts, I remind myself of the moment we pulled up to our house after our Make-A-Wish trip to find 12 or more tremendous lawn blow-ups and enough lights to see our house from outer space. How an entire community came out to surprise us with the best Christmas decorations I've ever seen, some friends driving more than 2 hours to help out in the freezing cold. That, right there, is what Christmas is all about.
For those who celebrate, I hope tomorrow is filled with laughter and beautiful new memories. Let's all remember to put down our phones and enjoy the company of our family and friends. We wish everyone a wonderful 2014. Thank you, always, for the love and support you have shown us every step of the way.