Last Christmas Eve, Santa came to visit Julia. We had just finished doing our Advent Wreath and all of a sudden looked up to see the man himself standing at our sliding glass door, his white gloved hand waving through the glass, his beard of white and jolly tummy shaking like a bowl full of jelly. Julia stared big mouthed as he waved goodbye and ran off to get her footie pajamas on. Curiously, Wesley came in the front door about 10 minutes later, just missing the man in the red suit. But Julia has talked non-stop about Santa visiting her, although she tells the story that he came to her bed while she slept. Maybe Wesley did that too. I wish I could ask him.
Wesley loved Christmas. I mean started buying stocking stuffers in October, owned his own Santa suit and pondered for months on how he could hang garland from our wood beams that are a feature on our 14 foot tall ceilings. He loved watching people open presents on Christmas Day and the looks of surprise and joy on their faces. I used to tease that he never opened his own gifts until the end of the Christmas present melee because he wanted all the attention on him, but really he would just be so content in watching others that his own festive gifts would sit on his lap, wrapped and ribbons tied. Wesley loved talking to Julia about Jesus coming and all of the animals in the stable, Wesley loved doing crazy things to my poor Fontatini nativity set like putting Darth Vadder in place of Joseph and just reveling in the happy and fun season of Advent.
Our house was cheery and bright, elves peering from tops of bookshelves and the energy as Christmas neared feeling electric. It was the most magical time of the year and we loved the way we felt in these hustle bustle days of December.
This year I feel like the Grinch. You know, the green fuzzy Suessian anti-hero who after a bit of breaking and entering in Whoville on Christmas Eve finds that “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.” His tiny heart grows three sizes and he glides back to return the gifts he has pilfered the night before. But I don’t quite feel I am having the epiphany that Mr. Grinch had. I feel like my heart is two sizes too small, not because I’m greedy or hateful but because it is broken. The remaining shards are held together with bits of Scotch tape like a poorly wrapped Christmas present. Truth be told, a little like the way Wesley wrapped gifts for others. He did not believe so much in the use of scissors so the wrapping paper was invariably wadded and secured at the ends of the boxes he had wrapped. It was his own signature look. I have memories flooding my home with every box I open, with every ornament I hang.
Last year, inspired by Pinterest, I decided we would wrap 24 books and Julia could open a new book each night as a reward for good behavior during the Advent Wreath lighting each night. As a three year old, she needed a treat for not catching herself or the tablecloth on fire after we read sometimes lengthy religious texts. So, one night Wesley and I wrapped books we had purchased for her and we laughed and chatted while we sat on the floor wrapping book after book surrounded by tape and ribbons. But as often happens the days got busy last year so we abandoned the lofty pursuit and packed up many of the wrapped books in our Christmas decorations as 2012 moved into 2013. When I opened the Christmas boxes a few weeks ago, it was those books that greeted me. The wadded wrapping paper at the ends, books bought and wrapped for Julia by her father who is no longer here to see her open them. It is crushing to think of him painstakingly choosing books for her that she would absolutely adore. Strawberry Shortcake, Angelina Ballerina, My Little Pony…each of these have been lovingly opened these past few days and I think, a smile on my face, “I did not buy that book for her.” I tell Julia that her Daddy bought those neat books for her last year and how happy it would make him to see her opening them and reading them to me or her babies. I can almost see him sitting on our blue floral couch, slyly looking at me and winking as she opens the books and squeals with delight. Wesley is not here with us in person, I cannot see his sweet quiet eyes but he is still with us. His kindness, his thoughtfulness lives on in the most unexpected and beautiful ways. He is shepherding us through this terrible time like he did in life, quietly and without fanfare.
I would be lying if I painted a picture of happy days and holly jolly singing of Frosty the Snowman. It is not true. It is terrifically hard. I have cried more in the past few weeks than I have since the first few days after Wesley’s death, I have vacillated between wanting to happily hang ornaments and wanting to rip the head off the the Elf on the Shelf, I have sat numbly looking at my Christmas tree and thinking how much has changed in my life in such a short time. How much Wesley would have loved seeing Julia as Angel #4 in her Nativity Play today and we would have made a funny joke about how we “did not know there was more than one lobster present at the birth of Christ,” a funny reference to the movie Love Actually. I yearn for my life a year ago. I yearn for the innocence and infallibility I had then. But they are gone and in their place I often have sadness and loss.
But if I can settle myself and listen to my heart, I let other memories flood my mind. I can cling to happier days of busily wrapping presents together in our tiny apartment in Atlanta; watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and us both crying EVERY YEAR when Linus tells Charlie Brown what Christmas is really all about; hours spent driving in cars to and from visiting family, excitedly talking and looking at Christmas lights in the middle of the night as we drove. I feel sad to imagine memories that could yet have been made. But I’m blessed that one of my sweetest memories now at Christmas is that of a father who once had the opportunity to be Santa to his little girl and see her eyes wide with wonder as she gazed upon him waving through the window. He is right outside our window, just now harder to see, watching over us.