When I taught elementary school, December was always the happiest month in the school year. Many students were making plans with their families for ski vacations, or Disney trips, or even for European travel … I taught public school in an affluent community, and parents were generous with Christmas gifts to teachers as well. Through the years I’m sure I accumulated nearly a hundred Christmas mugs, most often filled with chocolate treats or gift certificates to book stores and coffee shops.
At home, meanwhile, Rick and I would be working on wooden ornaments for our many nieces and nephews, and special gifts for our two grandchildren… wooden toys from Grampy, and pajamas from Nana. These are very happy memories … colorful paints, cute little shapes of soft wood … Some years were busier than others, but we were always able to travel to Maine to spend Christmas Eve with both our children and both our grandchildren. Our own home would be decorated with lights on the outside, colored bulbs, and candles in the windows, and a six foot tree decorated with ornaments bought and ornaments made. When our daughter was young we would invite her friends to a Christmas Eve afternoon party so their parents could do some last minute shopping or wrapping. We would spend Christmas Day between visiting our parents’ homes, one for dinner and one for supper. The day after Christmas was our day to spend at home with her new toys. When our son was born many years later, our parents had aged and we spent one meal at our home with all three parents in attendance, and then the evening meal fifty miles south at my brother’s home. And again, the day after Christmas would be our day to relax.
Everything is different now … Rick is no longer here with me … there are no wooden ornaments for me to paint for nieces and nephews … the house is moderately decorated with candles in the windows and the creche that stays up on the bookcase. There is one tree decorated in the window of the shop, but not here in the house … not since Rick died. From the outside, it looks like I’m celebrating.
There are many large group gatherings for the holidays to which I am invited … the senior center, the quilt guild, the needle-craft guild, the veteran’s quilt group … and while I appreciate all the opportunities to celebrate with friends, the size of the group determines which ones I will attend, as larger groups are hard work for me … hard to stay focused on conversations with so many voices… so many dates to remember and schedule around.
I had two doctor appointments that I’ve cancelled this month … too snowy for the first one, and just too early in the day for the second. Both involve Boston traffic, and though that doesn’t dissuade me, rising before daylight and getting on the highway at sunrise and sitting then in traffic for an hour or so at the city’s edge, just to have my skin checked, is more than I can do in the dark of winter. I will see him in January, with a later morning appointment. I’m not sure how many more times I will go to see him, as I’m not sure I want to continue finding and treating the melanoma … he always finds something, and then surgery follows, and then after care follows, and I am alone for all of it. I have to wonder how long I can continue to do this alone.
December is the darkest month of the year, and it poses more challenges than I can continue to face in Rick’s absence. I’ve done my best, and have failed once already … I may never be forgiven for that failure … and I am trying to avoid a repetition.
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