We didn’t know last Christmas would be his last here on earth.
He had just had surgery to reverse his ileostomy and was feeling more alive and more positive than he had since his Stage 4 Colorectal Cancer diagnosis. We were hopeful that he would qualify for HIPEC surgery and were hoping to hear the words “no evidence of disease” in 2019.
That did not happen.
Christmas is always a super stressful time. Matt was diagnosed early 2018, and the Christmas just before that almost took me out. This was when we had no clue he was sick. I remember begrudgingly dragging myself to all of the required Christmas functions, just wanting it all to be over. We were a few weeks away from starting fertility treatments again, and the stress of that alone was enough to kill me. The weight of fertility woes, christmas, packing for vacation, and mom obligations felt too heavy.
Oh, how I wish I could go back to the time where I thought I was stressed. The things I used to worry about seem tiny now. I didn’t have to worry about anything that wasn’t self imposed. Fertility treatments? Choice. Saying yes to 5,000 Christmas functions? Choice. Going on vacation right after Christmas? Choice. Stressing myself out worrying that our only child didn’t have enough to open? Ridiculous, and also a choice.
Cancer? Not a choice.
The last “normal” Christmas we had before cancer wasn’t normal at all. We were both feeling the pressure of life, and it rips my heart out to know he was weeks away from almost dying and I had no idea. I feel like I should’ve known. I missed the signs, if there were any. I try to forgive myself for that every day.
Last Christmas, we loved him. We slowed down. We made it special. We laughed a lot. We hugged a lot. Christmas took on a whole new meaning for our family when we knew what could happen and were no longer living in blissful ignorance. Nothing mattered but being together. I can’t even tell you what everyone got for Christmas last year, because it didn’t matter.
It took a cancer diagnosis to make me realize that all of the pressure I put on myself to make the holidays perfect for my family was a waste of time. It took watching Matt die to put my priorities in order. There is no perfect holiday. There is no perfect life. Life is painful and raw and fleeting and wonderful all at once, and it’s worth the effort you pour into it as long as it doesn’t drive you crazy in the process.
This year we are in England for Christmas with Matt’s family. Yesterday we laughed, cried, ate, drank, and remembered.
The hole in our Christmas day was huge. He wasn’t here for the first time in Quinn’s little life. He wasn’t here for Christmas morning. He wasn’t here to share his favorite day of the year with us. Still, we survived. Somehow, we continue to survive.
If you’re just surviving this Christmas, take it easy. If this is your first Christmas season without someone you love, be extra kind to yourself. Speak of them often, laugh about crazy things they did, play their favorite songs, and don’t let their memory die with them.
Matt, we miss you every day. You were much better at making holidays special than I am, but I’m trying. I know you’d be proud of us for being here and for having our first real British Christmas with your family in England. I miss your laughter, hugs, you playing with my hair until I fall asleep, and feeling safe with you. I miss you playing with the toys with Quinn Christmas morning. I miss you falling asleep on me every year. I miss mimosa and pajama Christmas days. I miss all of our silly traditions that we all 3 loved. Nothing is the same anymore. It’s not bad, it’s just not the same.
We miss you.