Our first Christmas together

This Christmas was our tenth one together, and for the first time it was just the two of us for the whole day.

The night before we tried to make the last Christmas Eve service at our church, but we cut it too close and missed it. When the service was starting and we were still on the road I said, “Chinese sounds kinda good right now.” Andy burst out with, “I was literally just thinking the SAME THING!” We called in an order and picked it up on the way home. We watched a couple of 30 Rock episodes and started falling asleep before 7pm. Luckily “It’s a Wonderful Life” came on TV to keep us awake and restore some Christmas balance to the night.

We slept in Christmas morning, made orange rolls and exchanged gifts. My last present from Andy was a stack of photos of my brother that Andy had chosen where he felt Justin looked “most like him.” Pictures of Justin laughing, looking surprised, grinning, happy. He included some frames too. He said he thought as time went on it would be more important for me to have pictures of my brother around. I’m crying again just writing about it. His thoughtfulness in knowing me and in missing and loving my brother too continues to give me pause to appreciate what a good man he is and how kind he is to me. I’m grateful.

Andy opened a new puzzle and worked on it all day until it was finished. I read a book. We made Quiche Lorraine together for the first time (it sounds fancier than it is). I took a nap. We ate leftovers from my work Christmas party for dinner. We tried to find a Christmas movie on TV and, “Look Who’s Talking Now” was the only one.

Seriously.

I was hoping for, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, “A Christmas Story”, or really, anything else. As it turns out, we watched it anyway and it was cheesier than I remember. Actually, whinier, I couldn’t believe how much Kirstie Alley whines in that movie.

It was a great long day together, the perfect mix of doing less for Christmas this year.

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Christmas 2015

Each Christmas we spend time with three out of four sets of parents that live locally and we see a few extended family celebrations too. I’ll dive into all of that in a minute, but first a little grief glimpse.

This Christmas was the first one without my brother that I could remember. In preparation, I read devotions on grief and ‘surviving the holidays without your loved one’ type articles. Each one echoed the same thing, “Take care of yourself, do what feels most comfortable for you.” It sounded like a pretty selfish message to me. But the family, friends and counselor I ran the idea past all agreed it was good advice.

One post in particular talked about how some people like to throw themselves back into the same family traditions and remember the joy they had in those traditions with their loved one. And some need a mellower holiday with space for quiet and solitude.

I shared these thoughts with Andy and told him I felt more comfortable with the quiet and solitude. We have also been trying to reduce the “hurry” in our lives lately and decided to do one family event per day. We hoped to not stress ourselves out like we have in years past, often arriving at the next family event wiped out from the one before.

It turned out to be one of the best ideas we’ve ever had. The time with family wasn’t rushed, it was fun.

The Lewis family kids chose their own Uncle to play Santa this year (he was offered $1 for his service) and we enjoyed visiting with each family. We played Cranium with cousin Georgia and caught up with the Haislet families. We made ninja cookies with our nephews and enjoyed the McKown Christmas.

We watched Charlotte unwrap a present and excitedly shout, “Newspaper!” before realizing there was a gift underneath it at the Mills/Harris Christmas. The Mills Christmas is being rescheduled due to the flu but that will be fun too (bowling this year!). We missed the McKown extended family Christmas in Chicago. But we did get to see most everyone there over the summer when we celebrated my Father-in-law’s 65th birthday.

It seems like a lot when it’s written out like this, but Christmas really was nice and not overwhelming. There was plenty of space between each get together and the time with our loved ones was sweet.

I’m grateful for each person we get to call family.

Silence for thoughts

Christmas is less than a week away and the idea that my brother won’t be here is still weird to me.

I don’t think about that reality all the time, like I did when it was fresh and new. But when things are quiet or I’m alone, he pops back into mind. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I smile. Sometimes I just whisper his name aloud and tell him that I miss him or that I love him.

The first few weeks after he died I drove around in silence, the radio would have have been too much competition against all the tumbling thoughts in my head. It took a while, but I remember the day I turned the radio on again and sang along loudly and poorly on the way home from work.

I wasn’t aware of it in the moment, but I was making space for the healing to start.