Holidays were Matt’s thing. Before having a child of our own, I mostly drank through the holiday season to combat the loneliness and emptiness I felt. After him, all that changed. He had a way of making every day special, but he cranked up the holiday cheer with childlike enthusiasm. The thing about being an old mom is that, by the time fate decides to hand you a baby at age 31 when you had no plans of ever having one, your friends all have teenagers. I was vehemently against the elf on the shelf. One of my friends with an older daughter had one shipped to our house and our lives at Christmas time were never the same. He squealed when he opened the box, and he thought of all kinds of crazy things for Quinn’s elf, Snowflake, to do. For him, it was just more Christmas magic, and he couldn’t get enough of it.
When we packed to move, I swear I packed Snowflake and all of her accessories that Matt bought over the years to make her laugh. When I unpacked, she was nowhere to be found. I thought maybe she would forget. She did not. I tried my best to divert her attention away from the elf, citing covid as a possible cause for her absence. She wasn’t buying it. I was rushing through Target one day and and grabbed a back up elf in case Snowflake was gone for good. New Elf rode around in the trunk of my car for a month.
This morning, I found my sweet little 7 year old frantically scribbling a letter to Snowflake, her long lost elf. She carefully placed it in the Christmas tree. When I read her note to Snowflake, my heart broke into a million more pieces.
It read, in part:
I hope you can come this year. I haven’t seen you in two years.
I broke down. Ugly crying isn’t something that happens very often around here, but I had to compose myself just to get out the door for work.
I survived last year, but barely. Matt died in August and the rest of the year was basically a blur. We spent Christmas and New Years in Europe and I used that as my excuse not to celebrate holidays traditionally at home when, in reality, I couldn’t stomach the thought of doing all the things I did with Matt without him.
Everything feels different. His presence is missed in ways I never even thought of when we knew he was slowly losing his battle with cancer. All the magic I felt at the holidays died with him.
After I took her to school I came back to the house to break New Elf out of the trunk. Imagine my surprise when I realized that, in my haste that day at Target, I bought the wrong elf. This one is a boy. Snowflake was white and a girl, complete with earrings. New elf is male and black. I panicked momentarily then came up with a plan that will probably solidify all my child’s angst in future therapy sessions when she figures out what I did. Then I did the only thing I knew to do- I lied. Call it Christmas magic if that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
I decided that telling her Snowflake is in heaven with daddy was a good story, because I honestly do not know where Snowflake ran off to. She may very well be in the company of our favorite inappropriate British hooligan angel.
When she got home from school, Cocoa had wrapped our Christmas tree in COVID’s favorite hoarding purchase. She read the note and laughed hysterically, just like she would when Matt was alive to think of new ways for Snowflake to destroy our house.
For Thanksgiving, I couldn’t handle my own feelings about being around family or being home alone. We ran to the beach and had a non traditional Thanksgiving in the sand.
Grief is a complicated process. Fight or flight kicks in and, if given the opportunity, I run every time. It’s easier to be a good mom when I don’t have to sit through the hard days wondering “what if”. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who not only understand that, but meet me where I’m at and love us anyway.
Christmas will never be the same without him, but there is joy. The excitement of a child at Christmas overshadows the grief I feel for the loss of our normal. I’m terrified for new beginnings and for what the future holds for us, but I’m making decisions and relying on good old fashioned hope and faith that the people around us will not hurt us. Our circle is small, but it is mighty.
I met someone. And he’s good and genuine and kind and understands that sometimes, I run when I’m scared. He meets me where I am and, instead of getting scared of grief and the widowhood and a fatherless child and everything that comes along with that, he goes at my pace. It’s new. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s also terrifying and makes me feel things that I’m scared to feel again. PTSD is real after the death of my beloved and after being the victim of narcissistic rage and abuse. Slow and steady keeps me from bolting. Forehead kisses don’t hurt.
I don’t know what 2021 holds for us. I don’t even know what the rest of the week is going to look like, or even tomorrow. But I know that we are loved and we are held and that people are standing in the gap for us.
Starting over is scary. Opening up when I’ve been devastated by the death of someone so precious to me and the horribly abusive relationship I found myself in shortly after is enough to make me run forever and never look back. But, just like the hope she had that her elf would come back, I have hope that I can put back the pieces of my life and not spend the rest of it alone out of fear of being broken again.
I have no plans of running away for Christmas. We’re going to make the most of it and hopefully we’ll be surrounded by love and light, just like Matt would’ve wanted for us. I want to run toward our future, not away from it. I’m hoping that we see a little Christmas magic this year, with a little help from our earthly and heavenly elves.