Surviving the Season: Decking the Halls

Decorating for any celebration should be a joyous occasion. I love the feeling of walking into a beautifully decorated house. Especially at Christmas. The house seems that much warmer. That much more festive. It feels like it invites me into a sanctuary away from the cold Ontario elements and the craziness of the season. It used to be one of the things I looked forward to each year. That changed after Arlynne went to heaven.

This year we had a plan. We figured out how to make our Christmas tree decorating easier. First of all, Pete and I would put the tree up while the kids were at school. It was a perfect solution. They don’t help with that part anyways. One point for us. We also bought individual plastic tubs last year for each of the kids. They each have their own ornaments stored together so that when it is time to put them up, they can pretty well do it themselves. I thought that the panic and stress I always felt when putting up the tree would be eliminated.

It didn’t work.

First of all, Pete and I bought a new tree this year. We both really liked it. It didn’t seem too big and I liked the white lights on it. It seemed perfect. Until we started assembling it. I wasn’t in the room but I heard very soon that there was a problem. It was too big for our space. We ended up rearranging all the furniture in our cozy family room. But not before I had a panic attack. I could not get my head around a solution to our problem. I had to walk away until I could figure it out. We somehow managed to make everything fit. It isn’t pretty but it is temporary. It looked like we were at the end of our tree drama. I was wrong.

One of the worst parts of having a kid away at university is the infrequency of her visits. She had wanted to decorate the tree with us on the weekend of the twins birthday but it was just far too busy. I told Pete that I wanted to go and get her, just for the evening, but it seemed a far too spontaneous and impractical idea. We would leave her ornaments for her to do but she would just have to miss out for now. Another grief.

We decided to make the most of it and we were progressing as planned until Eden realized that Karissa was not going to be home for decorating the tree. And she decided that she wasn’t going to participate. The twins had been anticipating it all day but I understood how Eden felt. I didn’t really want to do it either but waiting until Karissa came home would leave us “tree-less” until the week before Christmas. It seemed too late. We also had a very large “naked” tree in our family room. The perfectionist in me couldn’t leave it. So we had 2 kids ready to go, 1 kid away at school, 1 kid wanting to opt out, 1 kid who just wasn’t saying anything at all (except that the furniture arrangement was bothering him) and our last 1 never being here to do the tree again. This was not a recipe for a successful evening.

We did pull it off. Eden put all her ornaments even though she was clearly not invested in it. The twins had a ball, first putting on all their ornaments and then trying to “help” with a number of Pete and mine, along with Arlynne’s. Seven year olds are busy! There were tears (mine), there was some impatience, a few raised voices but in the end we had a fairly decent looking tree. It was done.

This is a clear illustration of how a simple family activity could turn into something very stressful. It was not easy. The first couple of years after Arlynne died I didn’t even want the tree up. I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas at all. But I have 5 other kids. Kids who wanted to celebrate Christmas. Christmas adds extra financial stress to our lives every year. We didn’t want the additional stress of grief too. It was overwhelming. But we did it. We had to. We didn’t want our kids’ memories to be of their parents shutting down.

And we have remembrances of Arlynne on the tree. First, there are all the ornaments that we got for her over her 16 Christmases. We also bought 6 special Christmas ornament frames the first Christmas after she died and we put a photo of each of the kids in one. We had had our last family photo session the fall before her last Christmas on earth. It seemed fitting. The last time we were all photographed together. My sister-in-laws bought me ornaments the first year after Arlynne died and they hold a special place in my heart. I have also bought different ones in the past couple of years in her memory. She may not be here still but she is still part of our family. She always will be.

Pete was out shopping last night. He was looking for ornaments to buy for the kids. He found a kitten ornament that is part of the ornament series that I started buying for Arlynne years ago. He bought it. When he showed it to me I cried. It is very precious. Just like her.

I understood why my kids feel the way that they feel. Karissa doesn’t want to miss anything here but she also likes being away. She is also old enough to make decisions about her priorities. She has sacrificed for her education and I am proud of her for that. I understand why Josiah would be distraught. He is very sensitive to our emotions and he also likes things the way he likes them. He doesn’t do change well. I understand how Eden is hurt by the absence of not one but two sisters. She is starting that awkward teen stage when half the time she wants to be in the family and the other half she pretends she doesn’t know us. She has also had a lot to deal with in the last couple of years. I get her. The twins are just a couple of enthusiastic 7 year olds who are just filled with joy. They are the ones who make me want to make Christmas special for them.

We survived the tree trimming this year. I felt exhausted afterwards. That is typical. Grief does that to me. I needed some time alone afterwards. It is how I cope. A true introvert’s response. And that is okay. And Pete supports me through it all. While he deals with it is his own way.

It hasn’t been pretty. It hasn’t been as magical as in the pictures on a Christmas card. But it doesn’t have to be.