As I gingerly unwrapped the white tissue paper from the sparkly, chubby mermaid ornament, I could hear my sister’s delight in this surprise – plain as day. It was as if she was standing in the room with me.
“It reminded me of you. And she’s green too! Green is your color, Lib!” I remembered how incensed I was at the thought of this fat, glittered, green mermaid with red hair happily floating in my tree. I had put on some of the weight from my over 55 pound weight loss a few years back. I laugh now at the thought of it all. The fact that I look more like that chubby little ornament than ever before is even more appropriate. The difference – she is happy in her skin, sparkling bright dangling over those piney branches.
I move on to the next white tissue. A Baby’s First Christmas for my then newborn son from my mom. She loved to shop at TJ Maxx, so the year is actually from the previous year. I was a little annoyed then – frustrated that my parents were aging, mad that my life wasn’t picture perfect like I thought it would be. There I sat, holding an ornament with the wrong date on it, newborn baby in my lap and nobody to share it all with. I was a single mom, struggling to find her way. Nowadays, it makes me chuckle a little. It was something my mom was especially known for.
I unwrap the lights, struggling with them just like my dad did. Nobody helps me because I am the quintessential control freak about them just as he was in my youth…swearing under my breath, and telling everyone to stay away until they get properly placed on the tree. He had a system for everything and that system rarely allowed for little helper hands. I could hardly stand it. The magic of the lights and the glittery, shiny baubles everywhere. I had to be involved. And I always got in trouble.
They are all gone now. There are no more new ornaments on the tree. There are no new stories to tell. Just memories dangling from the little branches. I cannot tell you the grief that washes over me at times when I think about any of them. You can imagine how it is during the holidays. All the memories. All the stories. All the pain.
’Tis the season for Peace on Earth, but that can be a hard thing for some of us to come by at this time of year. Continuing rituals that have been passed down for generations can be really difficult. The simple act of decorating the tree can reduce you to tears while the rest of your family looks at you, dumbfounded, wondering what opened up this can of worms. Don’t get me started on the Christmas music.
Those moments don’t go away. But you do learn how to navigate them a little better each time. You learn how to live around the pain. Each year at Christmas now, I know those giant plastic boxes that hide away in the corners of the dusty, dirty, hot attic all year are holding a pile of memories inside for me to sort through, one by one.
As I move towards this moment each year, I prepare myself and my family for what’s to come. These days, we have rituals of our own that help me to look forward to it all. Hot chocolate. Bailey’s Irish Cream. Music streaming from Pandora. A nice, comforting dinner in the oven. My family knows the stories behind each ornament. They indulge me every year, letting me recount my memories one ornament at a time. Each one is special story that I delicately unpack and hand on the tree in plain sight for all of us to see. It feels a little like unwrapping the bandages around stitches. You have to treat them with precious care.
Each night now, I walk by the tree on my way to bed. I am usually the last to go by. I always stop and notice an ornament, and I breathe in slowly, pausing in front of the magic that it all holds. I think of all of them – my mother, my father and my sister – remembering them as they were and as they would want me to. Bright. Sparkly. Shiny. Glittered. And it’s in that moment that I finally find the peace I seek in the season.