One year ago today I drove all the way across the Sound to "look" at Chelsea, a dog I had seen on www.petfinder.com (thanks a lot, Kat!) and ended up bringing her home with me. I had brought my mom along because she didn't think I needed another dog and I figured she could be my voice of reason. Because she was right. I didn't need another dog.
But the little dog, all skin and bones, immediately kissed my face when I met her and just wanted to be held. And when Taquito came in they were instant best buds. My mom dug out a pen for me and I signed for her and brought her home the same night.
The vet guessed she was about a year old when I took her in the next day and they needed an estimated birth date for vet records so I decided her adoption day would be a good day. I dubbed her Chalupa, enrolled her in obedience classes and she's been the most delightful little pain ever since.
I blogged about my dog's birthday. That just happened!!
Christmas has always been a tough time of year for me. It may stem from the fact that my birthday was often overlooked due to its close proximity to the holiday. Or could be the fact that holidays like Christmas just seem to exaggerate the family dynamic to an intense degree. If your family is happy at the core all year then Christmas is extremely happy. If your family is less happy at the core (or in my case unhappy and messed up) then Christmas is extremely unhappy and messed up.
Although, most of my Christmas memories are fond ones. Because the ones I have chosen not to tuck away into the depths of denial are the ones that are centered around my grandmother. To our tiny family, she was Christmas.
Our first Christmas without her was in 2006. It was painful. Our family talked about it and decided we would try to get around it by changing it up a bit. We celebrated at a different location, at a different time but kept the main strands of tradition. It looked different but we all knew what it was. It was Christmas without grandma and so it wasn't really Christmas at all.
The next year was much of the same. We changed it around a bit, tried a few new things to see if it would make the new tradition list. We hardly brought grandma up at all. Maybe if we didn't talk about it, it would be better. But all of our not talking about it didn't change the fact that it wasn't Christmas. It was just our second Christmas without grandma.
Maybe it would have gotten easier as the years went on without a great intervention. I don't know. But I doubt it. It probably would have continued on just the same. Just the 3rd Christmas without grandma. Just the 4th Christmas without grandma...
But this year was different. It wasn't just a Christmas without grandma. It was Brayden's First Christmas. We all gathered around the tree like we used to do and we pulled out all of our gifts. I sat on the floor with my nephew in my lap and I opened his gifts for him. I shook them like my grandma used to do then flung off the paper. Our whole family watched and smiled and oohed and awed over the faces he made. We laughed as he lunged forward to play with his new toys and used his tiny hands to grab at the dancing lights. Wherever Christmas had gone, it came back from that place with no hard feelings.
My parents opened their gift from us, a digital frame. David set it up, right next to the framed photographs of my grandma I had given my sister the year before, and we all took a few minutes to watch the slideshow. It was packed with photos of Brayden, of the three kids growing up, of the wedding, of our family pets and my grandma.
I told Brayden who she was and told him that she was probably here right now. My sister said that Brayden already knew her. This took us all by surprise a bit because my sister varies on what she believes in from day to day. She said that three times now, she had been sitting on the sofa near the photos I had given her and Brayden suddenly looked at the photo of her when she was in her early 20's and squealed in delight and apparent recognition and began cooing and laughing as he gazed at the picture. Each time it lasted several minutes. Judy said that if it would have happened only once that she probably would have dismissed it. But now she has no doubts that Brayden and Grandma had some time to talk before he was born and that grandma must be in her early 20's in Heaven.
With that in mind, we had an even better Christmas. We more fully realized that Grandma wasn't really gone. She's still keeping tabs on us. So it's not really a Christmas without Grandma at all. It's just Christmas.