December is upon us and the holiday hustle-bustle has officially commenced. A Hallmark Christmas movie is emitting cheesy Christmas romance from my TV and my sugar cookie candle is delighting my senses. It’s Friday night and I’m sipping hot cocoa as a freezing rain drizzles outside my window. All is well, except one thing. I’m alone. I’m a widow at Christmas.
If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that the holidays seem to center around love. Misteltoe, champagne, gift-giving, parties, decorating, card-writing, and 24/7 carols on the radio. You can’t escape love this time of year. People are giddy with excitement about their latest Elf-on-a-shelf plan, cocktail recipe, cookie recipe, or Christmas tree lighting special on cable. Calendars are booked with work parties, Toys for Tots parties, cocktail parties, and gift exchanges. And if you’re not excited about one of the aforementioned activities, you hopefully have a “plus one” to drag along and make the less-than-exciting engagement more bearable. This Christmas, after having so many with Dan, I’m realizing just how much he lit up my spirit at Christmastime.
As is the story with Dan and me, our Christmas seasons were peppered with hospital visits, chemo infusions, spinal taps, and unexpected fevers. But, last year in particular, had an uneasy vibe. Truth be told, we knew something just wasn’t right with Dan. He had mysteriously and suddenly lost much of his vision, his legs were getting weaker instead of stronger, and his arms and legs swelled with fluid to the point that we had to wrestle with compression stockings every day to keep it at bay. He had limited stamina to keep up with his exercises and his incessant nerve pain debilitated his progress. We’d go to bed at night and wonder (mostly within the confines of our minds) if we could possibly be sharing our last Christmas together.
Unlike the previous Christmas we’d spent in Seattle, just two months after his transplant, full of hope for a lifetime ahead, last Christmas we were just plain scared. We didn’t buy many gifts last year as we were simply too pre-occupied with Dan’s health. We didn’t decorate as excessively as we would’ve liked. Dan and I didn’t go to any fancy Christmas party or Christmas tree lighting, we didn’t taste cocktails or bake cookies. Dan stayed home while I went to Christmas Eve mass with my family and recorded the “Oh Holy Night” performance because, to Dan, it just wasn’t Christmas without it. We cautiously monitored a fever that hovered around the emergency room cut-off of 100.4 degrees and prayed that we could at least be at home for Christmas. Last Christmas we didn’t have much, but we had enough. It may sound cheesy; scratch that, I know it sounds cheesy, but we had enough because we had love.
This Christmas there is still an uneasy vibe and an entirely new set of fears. For starters, I recently mailed the check for the Christmas wreath that will rest on my husband’s headstone at his grave. Sure, there have been and will be tears, but this is a blog about love, after all. And love is challenging me to find Christmas this year. It’d be easy for me to write off this Christmas and I’m pretty sure no one would blame me if I did. Part of me wants that, yes. But I believe in love. Some of Dan’s last words to me were to let love in and to spread the healing power of the heart (he really said that). There is an incredibly evident Dan-sized hole in my heart, but the wonderful thing I’m learning about the heart is that it has an infinite capacity for love. I have seven adorable nieces and nephews and a gaggle of siblings to love. I’ve got in-laws and extended family and literally thousands of people who “follow” me and support me and care for me every day.
I’ll venture to assume that many people reading this are experiencing a heartbreak, a loss, a tragedy, a difficult circumstance, or loneliness this holiday season. To you, to us, I say, “find Christmas anyway.” Rather than dwelling on what you don’t have and pitying yourself while wishing for what others have, let love in. Do something nice for someone you love. Give money to a family less fortunate. Buy a toy for a child in need. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Spoil the family and friends that bring you joy. I miss Dan so much because he was the love of my life. He was my “plus one” and he brought me unending joy. Losing him feels like I’m starting all over again. And in a way, I am. This season incessantly reminds me of that over and over. But, I refuse to be fear’s captive and I’ll do everything in my power to use love to keep me free. It’s what Dan taught me and it’s what love did for us through the relentless terrors of cancer. There is always some way to find joy and there is always a reason to celebrate Christmas. Isn’t that what this season is about: love, hope, and new life? I believe in it. I believe in Christmas. I hope you can, too. All will be well.