I am at peace this Christmas. I was not last year. I couldn’t wait for Christmas to be over last year. It was just a painful, difficult season wrought with family turmoil and the pain and anger that accompanied the addictions and depression in some folks close to us. There was nothing joyous about the holidays. This year is different. Even with Sissy’s death staring over our shoulders, it’s better. Much better. This year I have peace in my life and in my heart. It is the greatest gift I could have received, and I didn’t expect to get it. Sometimes the best gifts are surprises.
Back in October, I started dreading Christmas. This would be our first Christmas since Sissy’s suicide, and I just wasn’t looking forward to rehashing the memories of Christmases past. Before Sissy’s son, Chance, and husband, David, died, she loved Christmas. We had many wonder holiday mornings together, opening presents and sharing breakfast. Even in the last couple of years of her life when her depression was at its worst, she still liked to decorate for Christmas.
As we were packing up her stuff and cleaning up her house this summer we found box after box of Christmas decorations. I couldn’t stand to look at most of it and neither could anyone else, so I saved some ornaments and gave the rest to a niece. Near the end of our cleanup, we stumbled upon a box of ornaments we hadn’t seen before. After examining the ones on top, we realized they were ornaments from the years that Sissy, David and Chance were all alive. We had never seen them, so I guess she had boxed them up and saved them sometime after Chance died. I didn’t have the emotional strength to look through the entire box, so we put the lid on it and saved it. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I didn’t want to throw it away.
Thanksgiving evening I decided to drag out the Christmas tree and decorate it. Hubby set up the big tree and started hauling down boxes from the attic. By accident, he brought down Sissy’s box first, mistaking it for our stuff. I opened it up, and immediately realized the mistake. It caught me off guard, but I was drawn to a Christmas stocking on top. It was Chance’s first stocking. A lump crept up into my throat. It was like driving by a car accident. I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t help myself. I pushed the lump back down and reached for another tissue wrapped ornament. Teen Angel sat down beside me and started pilfering through the items, too. Within minutes we were smiling. Each carefully wrapped package held one beautiful surprise after another. Chance’s first stocking.
His first ornaments.
Pictures from his toddler years.
His little Santa’s Helper hat.
Even his Santa Hat.
There were ornaments he made in school and cub scouts.
And several of his Mickey Mouse ornaments. He loved Mickey.
There was the ornament from the first year of Sissy and David’s marriage and another one that held a picture of all three of them. There was no pain in that box. Just beautiful memories. Memories that would have been too painful to wade through when we stumbled upon the box back in the summer but memories that were sweet after we’d had some time to heal. I asked Hubby to bring down a second tree, a smaller prelighted tree. We set it up in the corner of the living room, covered it with Sissy’s old ornaments and topped it with Chance’s Santa Hat. Every night it twinkles at us as we watch TV and read, while the big tree with all of our other stuff stands guard in the foyer. It’s a reminder of Sissy, David and Chance and all of those great Christmases we used to have together a long time ago.
While discussing it at an Al-Anon meeting recently I realized that the tree helped me to reclaim those memories and stop dwelling on old hurts. Our relationship with Sissy was so much more than the last two years. It was more good than bad. That gives me peace this holiday season and allows me to open up my heart to Christmas this year.
That box of old ornaments was a gift. A gift I didn’t expect to get. But sometimes the best gifts are surprises.
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