We had such an incredible Thanksgiving! Jonathan came home from University of Utah. We had Nanny and Aunt Alesia over for a great turkey dinner. We didn’t do much other than hang out together. It seemed almost too good to be true. It was an uneventful and awesome Thanksgiving. We were able to get one of our Christmas trees decorated. This is the tree that has ornaments on it from every year of the kids’ lives. Each funny ornament represents something about them that year. The rule is even if you aren’t still into Zoe from Sesame Street or Hannah Montana, the ornament has to represent you for that year. We have fun putting up the ornaments and talking about funny Christmas memories. Of course the plan was to decorate the tree at noon and it didn’t happen until about 230. Then, we scrambled to help Lauren get her "Friendsgiving" cake baked at that last minute. The informal, TV room side of the house is mostly decorated, but the living room isn’t yet.
The other side of our house has a more formal living room. More formal than our family room with the "fun" Christmas tree, but not formal as in fancy. It is just a bit spiffier. 5 years ago, the house we sold to move into this house closed on Thanksgiving, meaning the sale was final and we moved the rest of our stuff out the weekend before Thanksgiving and headed to Plano, Illinois to have Thanksgiving with the Hacker family on their house out in the country. That was the last Thanksgiving I really remember being there. Now I am not sure if we ever went back to Plano for Thanksgiving. Yikes! But, I do remember it was very special. Phil had made a huge zipline that was 200 feet long and built it across the Hacker property. The kids spent most of the time flying down Cedar Ridge on that thing. Phil could have opened up a business, it was pretty awesome. It was a nice Thanksgiving.
That next week, we went back to Omaha and began to prepare for Christmas. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I had forgotten about the week I had after Thanksgiving that year until Lauren and I were talking about this weekend. I went back to teach. Lauren and I had decided we wanted a "fancy" Christmas tree in the living room. We talked about what we wanted to do and Phil got us a second tree. It was very tall and elegant. We wanted the tree to tie in with the décor of our living room, so we chose burgundy and gold. We went out to Mulhall’s to find some of the items we were looking for to put on the tree and decided we want to add large gold and burgundy fabric pointsettias to the tree along with glass bulbs in those colors. We were so excited, but it took a long time. I was so worried about the cost. At the end Lauren was really tired and was coughing on the way home. I had kept her out a little late. I had forgotten that she didn’t feel that well that week and just seemed really tired like she was coming down with something. I was so focused on that tree.
That tree meant so many things to me. It means something else now. But, at the time, it meant that our family was "that family." That family was this ideal family in my head….the family that had fun together, took care of one another, went to church together, and had fancy trees that signified planned, organized, perfect kind of holidays spent decorating, baking, and making memories. It reminded me of the first year I felt like a real family after my parent’s divorce and my mom’s eventual marriage to my step-father, John. John came from that kind of family. When I was in 5th grade, the same year that Lolo was 5 years ago, I had one of my favorite Christmases. It is strange because it didn’t seem like a particularly spectacular Christmas, but it was to me. We were living on a military base in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Most of our stuff was in storage and we were actually living in another family’s house while they were away going to a school in Montgomery, Alabama. So, it should have been a hard time. But, it was awesome. I was settling in and becoming a family with my step-father. We strung cranberries and popcorn to decorate the tree. I was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie, so I had so much fun making ornaments and baking with my mom. John had a dog and we were actually a real family with a dog. We had a tree all lit up and I was in a Christmas play that year as Mrs. Santa Claus and actually got a kiss from Jimmy Peffley who was excellent in the role of Mr. Claus. Things were going pretty well in my books.
5 years ago, I didn’t realize the world as we knew it was going to end. That year so many people had predicted that 12/12/12 was going to be the end of the world. We made jokes about it in class when I was teaching. I overheard some of the students talk about it and entertained the funny things they had heard online. Today I went to mass and Fr. Baxter talked about the Feast of the Solemnity and how the world as people knew it ended. That stuck in my head. That is how I feel this week. So many people can remember what they were doing on 9/11 or the days leading up to it. Some of these memories hold anxiety and sadness because of the devastation that occurred on 9/11. It is very similar to the way someone with cancer or the parents of a child with cancer can feel about the "cancerversary." Lolo’s cancerversary is on 12/12/17. It will be 5 years this year. I forgot about the tree. Lolo and I still need to decorate it. That year I was so stinkin’ proud of how pretty that tree turned out. It was such an incredible joy designing it with Lolo…..my talented decorator, designer, fashion guru. I forgot how hard we worked on it. It made me so happy about our new house….our pretty living room and a house big enough to entertain friends at the holidays. I couldn’t wait for Christmas break. I was excited to create memories with my family. Christmas is such a fun time of the year.
It is also a time when we grieve. We grieve over the loss of those that we love that are no longer with us. My step-father was my rock and brought a love of the holidays to me. We had many happy Christmases together. He would have loved the tree Lolo and I designed. We grieve the loss of dreams and expectations. There is so much anticipation of Christmas that many people are let down by the holiday because it fails to meet their dreams of how Christmas should be. Or, for some, Christmas is a reminder of unhappy memories and loneliness in their past. For many, the impact of loss is profound at Christmas. In 2012, the darkness and sadness that came after Lolo’s diagnosis can never be erased. The PICU and days in the dark during December of 2012 still sting. The memories of Jonathan trying so hard to get Lolo to lift her head to even acknowledge one of her presents is so vivid. The sadness in his eyes as he left to go home without us still weigh heavy in my memory. But, these feelings do not outweigh the excitement this year that we get to be together. The celebration that we will have honoring Lolo’s 5 year battle against AML will, hopefully, be able to happen. That dang tree isn’t decorated yet, but it will be. However, I don’t look at that tree the same now. Our life as we knew it ended on 12/12/12. That tree isn’t a badge of perfection; it is a little snapshot of the love I have for Lauren. It is the memory of a day being creative together and sharing the experience of the preparation for Christmas. It is also the memory of what it felt like when we weren’t always waiting for the other shoe to drop…..the year we just focused on the desire to have a pretty tree. The biggest change is within me as I get ready to decorate that tree. I am no longer insecure wishing that we were "that family." We are that family, but it is so different than I could understand at the time. We won’t have the perfect Christmas card and it won’t be out on time….or maybe it will? We will probably be behind getting things done and our Christmas dinner will be average. The kids will raise a huge stink about going to Christmas mass. We will have a very fancy tree in our living room, but most importantly is that we will be together. There isn’t going to be that many gifts under the tree. What we have learned above all else is how to be present with each other and that is the greatest gift of all. The world didn’t end. It just ended as we knew it.
Please consider coming to our pediatric cancer mass at SMM on December 12th at 7 pm. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to have a child affected by childhood cancer to be prayed for at this mass. Please pray for Lolo that she continues in remission and stays strong and healthy. We look forward to the chance to turn our 9/11 into a day of hope for others and help us see all the blessings that have come our way, despite the memories of sadness and fear.