i remember the Christmas of 1985. It was about checkboxes for me. Dad died suddenly in June of 1985 and every major holiday, milestone, or event simply felt like a box to check off that year.
First birthday – check.
First anniversary – check.
First Thanksgiving – check.
As our checkbox Christmas approached, on one particularly terrible night in my home, my mom threw down a mandate that caused my brothers, my sister, and me to reach the conclusion that she’d finally really, truly lost her mind. “This year we’re doing NOTHING the same. This year is not the same. This year is the door to the future and we WILL have a future. It will not feel the same—so we won’t be trying to force it. It will be ugly and it will hurt—so we’re going with it. We will check this day off and we will start again.”
i can close my eyes and see the Christmas trees of my childhood:
- always live trees. always huge trees.
- in the living room with close proximity to the fireplace to make Santa’s job easier, of course.
- every ornament-type under the sun: handmade, store-bought, fancy, silly, and the stories that went along with each as we hung them on the tree.
- tinsel (guys, seriously it was mostly the 70s-80s, so tinsel was our jam…my dad was VERY clear that each strand of tinsel was to be placed on a branch one at a time. No tinsel globs. Then it’d be gaudy…um, OK.).
- colored lights – always, c’mon white lights were so boring…who DID that?
The Hunter family Christmas tree: comfortably home, perfectly imperfect, and consistently reliable…a reflection of my world. Until it wasnt. Until 1985.
For the checkbox Christmas, we went rogue on past traditions (i still think we went along with this madness because we were a lil worried Mom might snap at any minute):
Traditional tree? Nope. Red. Flocked. Crazy. Tree.
Memory-laced ornaments of years passed? Nah. Silver balls. Tinsel. White lights.
Tinsel carefully distributed on each branch? (here’s the BEST part of checkbox Christmas) Not even close. Every one of us grabbed piles of the silvery, static-charged shreds and chunked handfuls at this insane tree. It was cathartic. It was hilarious. It was nuts. It was perfect.
Living room Christmas headquarters? No way. We even changed the room we celebrated in. Game room by the garage…the living room stayed void of decor. Radical change for us.
i have been thinking lots about our checkbox Christmas and crazy red tree lately…
Did i ever tell Mom how much she helped me endure that year?
Did i ever thank her for being crazy enough to help us limp a lil closer to healing?
Did i ever tell her how brave i think she was? How real? How strong?
Christmas is different now. We did have a future and a mom who steered that horrible, broken ship thru storms to get me here…to my future. Have u endured a checkbox Christmas yet? Who in your world is facing their own checkbox Christmas this year? Dont try to force those days into the patterns of the past. Checkbox days are agonizing and unfamiliar. Instead of expecting these days to look like the days gone by, get a red tree and a handful of tinsel and hold the pencil together as u check the box.
To all my people checking boxes this year, i’m praying for a red tree to help u get to the other side of this day…u are seen. U are not forgotten. U have a future.
*Originally posted 12/22/16
**Also, this is STILL one of my fav reads on what grieving folks want us to know at this time of year. Take some time with these words, wouldya?