It is finally snowing.
I’m sitting at my MIL’s home, watching a gentle white cloud cover dry grass and evergreens while a ceaseless soundtrack of the laughter and bickering of my children wafts from the basement. A little deer is limping through the snow, hopping on three legs as it picks its way through the thicket. It’s beautiful outside, and cold, and sad, and also wonderful, and right- it is as it should be.
We spent Channukah quietly in Chicago. Aunt Genocide visited for the first night, and the other seven we spent just the five of us, playing dreidel, lighting candles, eating latkes, giving each other presents.
It was all very subdued. All very low key. My inability to cook or wrap presents kept the festivity to a minimum, while the cloud of my grandmother’s death hovered over me, a constant reminder that this is not how things are supposed to be.
It rained a lot, a warm December rain. And when Channukah had passed M hung the stockings, although we never erected or trimmed a tree, and we left Chicago for the surprisingly greener pastures of Minnesota, where we’ve been for almost a week now.
We’ve seen so much family, eaten so well, sang Christmas songs and built gingerbread houses, exchanged gifts and laughter and stories.
I’ve mostly sat quietly, nursing an ache in my shoulder and in my heart, running through the to-do lists in my head for our return to Chicago, on Christmas Day, when the preparations for my grandmother’s pseudo-funeral will take over.
It has been a beautiful holiday season, truly.
I have never been more grateful for my MIL, who I love dearly, and who has cared for me with a tenderness and compassion I will never be able to repay. I have never before had the opportunity to watch my sisters cook a Thanksgiving dinner, disabled and restricted as I was, four days out of surgery, with my mother in Spain to tend to my grandfather in that dark time. It was wonderful, being adults, real adults with my sisters, competent and confident. It was new and wonderful, even if we had to discover this new relationship we share because of such grief.
It was wonderful to have my younger sister for Channukah, to watch her attempt and fail to outsmart her nieces maneuverings for extra bedtime stories and desserts. It was a delight to light candles with her, to sing the prayers with my grandmother’s tune, to give each other horrible and wonderful presents, to feel so thoroughly inseparable by mourning.
It has been a gift to come to Minnesota, to see M’s grandmother, and share the good news of her cancer’s remission. To see his cousins and feel so completely wrapped up in a massive family that is not overwhelmed by the chaos of death in the midst of this happy time, to be around uncomplicated joy and to be swept up in it.
2015 has not been a good year for our family. M’s cancer’s resurgence, his surgery and chemo, the death of his grandfather, my injury, my surgery, my grandmother’s passing…
But if I measure the year in pictures drawn by my children, doodles with Daddy’s Optune and backpack, chalk drawings of our nanny on the sidewalk in front of the house, a million scraps of paper that say, “I love you,” and a million sticky handprints on my face and my heart- if I measure the year in kisses and hugs, in words of confidence and promises of bravery, I could not have imagined a better year.
You never give somebody so great an opportunity to show you their depths of their heart as when your own is breaking. My heart has been broken too many times this year, but each time I have had my family by my side, their hearts open and raw and full of laughter and love.
It has been a hard year, but I have seen the hearts of the people I love most more clearly than ever before. I have seen my children face more strain than any six and three year olds should, and I have seen it make them more compassionate and strong. I have seen my husband struggle not only with his own recovery, but with taking care of me. I have seen my in-laws sacrifice for M and for me, show me how deeply I am part of their family and not just of M’s. I have seen my parents step back from their own caregiver roles and and let us care for them.
There are a dozen deer now in the field, surrounding the injured one and helping it along past the frozen riverbed. The children are quiet but exhilarated, they’ve never seen so many deer at once.
I have, only once When I was RH’s age, in the dead of night. I was so sure I’d seen them, running past my parents’ cabin. Nobody else saw them. Nobody believed me, they said I must have dreamed them. And maybe I did.
This is no dream. This is everything winter is and should be. Cold, and cruel, but warm, and filled with love.
Happy Holidays, my lovely readers.
Be safe, and warm, and well.
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