Of the candidates submitted for consideration, Christmas 2013 definitely wins the Weirdest Christmas Award. So far.
To begin with, it was my first Christmas while in college, and that was weird. I was buying gifts in Pocatello or Idaho Falls, or having them shipped to my dorm room, and I did all collaborative shopping with my sisters as well as we could over Black Friday.
It didn’t feel very Christmasy without a billion concerts and recitals to go to, although I did get to go to my sisters’ piano recital the Friday after I was home and say hello to my piano teacher.
I got home on Wednesday the 18th, having left in about the middle of the morning with Derek, and spent a few hours alone in my house before my family got home. They are so busy. Was I that busy when I lived here?
On the 19th I went with my mother and sisters to Boise so the sisters could attend swim practice at the Boise Swim Clinic/Club (I forget which). While they were doing that my mom and I got food, and she told me that we were planning to fly to Minneapolis on New Year’s Eve and then come back on the 3rd. I thought that sounded like a good plan. We went and poked around JoAnn’s and drooled over yarn and such, and then her brother called.
My grandpa, her dad, was in and out of the hospital for the greater part of this year and his health had declined steadily. He and my grandma ended up having to move out of the gorgeous old farmhouse in suburban Minnetonka (it was there first!) on the road that he named, and into some sort of senior citizen living center a couple suburbs over. And that was okay. I didn’t quite process the change, but it was okay.
Anyway, my uncle called, and it was not good, and we kept getting updates throughout Friday, and my mom booked a flight and she and my dad left the house at 3:30 Saturday morning so she could catch the 5:30 plane to Minneapolis.
That day my sisters and I were busily doing laundry and baking cookies and frosting them and decorating the tree (we hadn’t done that yet!) and just generally making a mess, and I had just gotten started on the dishes when the phone rang and it was my mother.
I knew by her voice when I answered. I knew.
My dad came up the stairs and Anna came down the others, and Kristen came in from the living room. I handed the phone to my dad and I told Anna that “Grandpa passed away,” even though in that moment I was thinking how much I hate it when people say that someone passed away. He died, damn it. He is dead, and there is no shame in that. But that’s not what polite people say. So there I was, being very polite.
I turned around and leaned against the kitchen doorjamb and cried until my dad got off the phone, at which point we all hugged each other at once. Kristen pulled away first. Characteristic. She doesn’t like anyone touching her when she’s normal, let alone sad. I’m the toucher. I need contact – not from just anyone, but from the people I love. In church on Easter Sunday this past year, I started sobbing during one of the songs for some reason, probably partly related to a recent breakup, to a heart-jerking Madeleine L’Engle book I had recently read, and to my personal guilt issues, and Kristen noticed and held my hand. That is the only time I remember her doing anything of the kind to soothe someone, or herself. But no matter. We all deal in our ways.
And then, because my dad is not a demonstrative person, he pulled away too, and I marched right back into the kitchen and attacked those dishes like I have never attacked dishes in my life. Of course I was bawling on and off the whole time. Often throughout the years I wondered how I would handle it if someone in my family died. I did not visualize myself washing dishes for therapy. But that is okay.
We cried a lot, and went out to get a quick burger and laughed a lot, and remembered the good times – of which there were always plenty. We stopped by Walmart and got ice cream, and just generally continued to exist. I had some bad moments that night when I decided to watch the very emotional Series 2 finale of Doctor Who, and when Rose bawled, “Am I ever going to see you again?” and Ten broke her heart with, “You can’t,” I absolutely fell apart. But I was okay in the morning.
We picked up my mom on 23 Monday, and it felt a little more like Christmas. She told us that our plans had changed, and we were flying out on 27 Friday in order to make the memorial service on the 28th, and we’d be back New Year’s Day.
By this time we’d finally put presents under our tree and such whatnot, and there were cookies in the house, and that was nice too. Christmas Eve was pretty normal – we lazed about, went to church, went to my grandparents’ here in town, came home, watched George C. Scott in A Christmas Carol (my favorite version), opened our Christmas pajamas and went to bed.
This morning I woke up at seven hearing weird noises and some voices; one voice sounded like my youngest sister Anna, so that seemed normal, the other was my dad’s. I thought they were getting up, and I sleep in the basement in a room adjacent to the one with the fireplace, so I waited to be woken up and told we were starting the gift opening. Nothing happened, and the next thing I knew my mother was in my room, fully dressed. She explained that early this morning my dad’s mom had called 911 for severe pain in her shoulder that had been getting worse for a while and had gone to the ER. My mom was on her way over to let their dog out, and my dad was with his parents at the hospital. My dad stopped home briefly, and we each five opened one gift, before he had to make the hour drive to Boise to get pain medication for his mom that wasn’t available in town.
When he got home and we were finally eating Christmas breakfast all together, he and my mother poured mimosas. “To our parents,” he said. I laughed.
Since then the day has normalized, and that has been nice (although we finally got internet after its being inexplicably out for 24 hours. Boy do I appreciate it now).
Matt Smith is regenerating today – indeed, he already has, just not in America, “so variable a thing is time,” as Madeleine L’Engle wrote. I will miss him so very much. My first regeneration in real time is going to hurt, but oh well.
Christmas is nice – my parents gave me some Madeleine L’Engle books which I have been dying to own, and my sisters gave me the first season of the Bob Newhart Show, which I love, and my dad slipped me a whole bag of orange slices to myself because he knows the other two don’t eat them, and that was great, and all my family members lit up when they opened my gifts and that just made me feel like an absolute boss.
And as usual, because I am an absolute, unmitigated sap, I have been so loved these last few days. Hugs from my parents, which are now a treat rather than a commonality, and hugging my sisters, which I now do at least ten times a day to make up for all the ones I’ve missed. My cousins have texted me and we have talked about feelings and change and processing it, and there is more love, endless love awaiting us in Minneapolis. Derek has loved me, as usual, in his constant way. Hannah, in her equally unreliable way, sent me a message saying she was there for me. Kailyn, and by extension her boyfriend Kory, both of whom I think are wonderful, have been beyond supportive. Stephen checks up on me often and I feel so loved, not even in a romantic way but just plain, ordinary human being to another kind of love.
And it reminded me of a line from Madeleine L’Engle’s Many Waters, which I do not think she wrote, because then I found it again in a lovely song by René Clausen which we did for choir festival my junior year. The line is “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.”
The man who arranged the song – I can’t remember if that was René Clausen or not – was married, so Mr. Stear told us, and his wife was pregnant. They were at a doctor’s appointment, and seeing the baby on screen (however they do that), when something went wrong, some sac of liquid broke, some fluid escaped. The baby drowned in the uterus right in front of their eyes.
And that was when he was inspired to write/arrange (I really cannot remember!) the song.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.
The song continued with, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death.”
Love is strong as death.
Many waters cannot quench love. No amount of tears can send the fire of your love sputtering into ashes. There is no such thing.
And that is why grief is so weird and interesting, and there’s more to this that I’ve been thinking about that I’ll get to some other time, in relation to the Doctor Who series 2 finale, and the movie Memphis Belle, and other things. But grief- no matter how much you cry, no matter how deeply you grieve, love will always be deeper. Always. And that is why I support the theory, as put forth by (guess who?) Madeleine L’Engle, that love is not an emotion in the same way that grief and joy are.
The greatest of these is strong as death.
Made new and real to me all over again, as usually happens. That’s life, I suppose, relearning it again and again, when you thought you knew it all.