I guess this entry is me taking a stab at writing our family Christmas letter wrapping up 2011. This year many of you received a special holiday card picturing Delaney's award winning artwork of a Christmas tree. We also included a picture of our beautiful girls from our "Wishes Can Happen" Disney trip in April. Usually my wife writes a summary of our year and includes it with our cards. She always chooses a beautiful quote, and it’s full of little details about our family and what we have been up to. I know she tried a few times to begin one in the last month, but she really didn’t have the heart.
Christmastime for me begins when one hears Christmas music on the radio all day. For some reason, the carols and the music surrounding the holiday begin to soften me to the spirit of the season. If I could I would listen to Christmas music 24/7. Our iTunes library has so much Christmas music you would think it almost strange. Why someone needs twelve versions of “The Little Drummer Boy” I’m not sure, but we have them. My all time favorite has to be Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song." It describes a picture perfect, storybook Christmas.
Our family has a tradition of decorating our home for the season on Thanksgiving Day. Personally, I love the way our space looks with the Christmas tree, all the smaller Christmas trees scattered about, and the seasonal knick-knacks on the tables and shelves. I especially love the Willow Tree Nativity displayed in a place of honor. Since our first Christmas together in 1999, before we were even married, my wife has slowly added a few beautiful things to our collection each year. Our tree is full of meaningful ornaments that tell a story of who we are. It gives the house an even more cozy, comforting appeal, especially this year since we live in a lower level (basement) setting. The decor usually lasts until the first weekend in January when it's time to begin a fresh new twelve months of life. We are always a little sad to take everything down and store it away. The house always seems a little “blah” until Monica begins to introduce some subtle décor changes for spring in March or so.
Our holiday season started off on the wrong foot. I recall sitting in a hospital room in Maryland on Thanksgiving Day when the nurse came in stating everyone would get a "turkey dinner" that day. They skipped me because only patients get fed. Neither Monica nor I had an appetite that day anyway. Besides, there is no substitute for a huge oven-roasted turkey set on the table surrounded by your family. We were stuck in a hospital room, again, away from our children, again, counting down the days until we could get home.
Christmas fared a little better. Knowing we would not be home for Thanksgiving, we managed to get our heirloom ornaments up on the tree a little early without breaking a single one. Even with Monica secluded in her recovery house alone, the kids and I managed to wrap a few gifts and set them under the tree. "Wrapping" a present sunk to new levels without Monica there to organize and supervise. Monica always says, “God is in the details.” She applies this to gift giving in a special way. For the girls and I it was tape and wrapping paper only; no ribbons or bows and no nametags. I think it was my father who first broke out the black Sharpie as a suitable substitute for nametags. I had flash backs to the year my mom died on December 29th, 1984. My dad left a blank check on the counter for my sister and I to go buy a tree those sad weeks before Christmas as she slipped away. I am not sure who bought us gifts that year. I guarantee you they didn’t have bows or tags.
I began to try to settle into my role of “Mr. mom” and keep things as light and cheerful as I could for Delaney and Danica. Presents began to arrive in boxes from family and friends who so dearly remembered our children. The week before Christmas two huge totes of gifts all selected and wrapped arrived from our church’s Jr. High group. The girls were sure this was going to be the best Christmas ever. Even though the presents under the tree were satiating my children’s Christmas hopes, I still remained alone without my best friend and wife. Monica was spending her days at the vacant house on the lake twenty minutes away. She would try to call and "check in" but usually I was busy with chores and upkeep and the kids were usually off playing or deep into a movie. Her calls left her feeling like we had in a short time moved on without her. They just reminded me how hard this was for all of us. It helps a little to have fellow adults just upstairs but after the kids go to bed the evenings are lonely as are the early mornings. The days leading up to and the days following Christmas just didn't seem festive. The heart of our home is gone.
Monica spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us at our home, but she was in no condition to play her part as mom and wife. In fact, it was actually nerve racking to see her try to resume her natural instincts to control her environment. While she should have been resting in bed, she was cleaning the house and trying to organize everything the way she needs and wants it to be. This was very frustrating to witness, and the two days passed by quickly. When Monica’s parents are available to watch the girls overnight I have been able to go stay with Monica a few nights. These visits at the lake house are rewarding, but I feel more like an out of town relative. We usually catch up on news or plan the next few days.
So with the Christmas gifts unwrapped we gave thanks for the birth of our Savior and Monica returned the next day to her recovery house. I began to box up all our decorations early. As of Wednesday evening our basement is back to “normal”. Christmas plus two days and it's over. A Christmas solstice I call it. It seemed like a moment instead of a season. It’s come and gone just like that, and I just don’t feel right.
Our family continues to manage adversity through God’s strength. Our two daughters are healthier now as ever. Delaney has a lifelong friend in her new puppy Twixy. She is doing really well in fourth grade at Lake Center Christian School. Danica is excited to begin pre-school there in early January. She loves attending Sunday School and AWANA at church. She is hungry to experience her own world and finally be well enough to spread her wings. Danica is now the second bravest girl I know.
Monica is recovering in peace thanks to a family I have not even had the pleasure of meeting yet. Their lake house is perfect for Monica. So many times over the last four years I have prayed I could give her a true period of rest and soul healing. God knew she needed this time and space. When I'm there I like to lay on the couch and look almost straight up through the large window panels to see a bright shining star overhead. In the daylight, the sun's reflection off the water casts dancing shadows on the walls.
I tell people I am doing "lovely" should they inquire, but I am extremely frustrated internally. I am grateful for food and shelter. We would have never made it through the last year without Monica’s parent’s generous opening of their home to us and constant help in caring for our girls when I am working. They have made huge personal sacrifices to get us this far. I am blessed with the family God has given me. The company I work for is stable and has a "whatever it takes" attitude when helping those in need. I am completely out of paid time off but am covered with FMLA for the inevitable doctor’s appointments and trips that still need to be made to maintain Danica and Monica’s care.
I miss my wife in a way I cannot explain. She is part of me, and it is missing when she is. Still, I fear that when Monica returns to her living quarters, her soul may be dampened. I see how having her own space sparks her great hope for a home of our own again. For the past several weeks her spirit has been given plenty of gracious sunlight. She has meditated in a quiet, spacious environment. She has time to follow her call to write and follow up with friends and family. When she returns to our dim basement environment and especially our bedroom without any natural light or fresh air I know it will take a toll on her physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being. She longs to create our own family rhythms again. She wants to cook dinners in her kitchen and have family meals and play our playlists as loud as we want and just be us.
I stayed with Monica last night. We had a fight. We rarely fight, but there was something about our anticipation of seeing one another and then sitting across from one another on the couch and talking about our open wounds that made us both sad and helpless. We made up, of course, and I wrote her loves notes to find when she woke this morning since I slipped out early to work. God has humbled me. Much of the “shame” I have wrestled with has turned into the realization that I am doing the best I can and the most I can right now. My income is steady but not a lot compared to what life has handed us. $7000 is taken annually from my pay for benefits. But, I have a job. For almost four years I have been able to provide health coverage for my family who lives and breathes by access to medical care from some of the best specialists. I have always looked to Monica to help. She always has. When she resigned from her job last October to care for Danica and her recovery we knew it would be very tight. After we moved into her parent’s home her health declined so greatly, and I began to wonder if she would ever be able to help again. I wonder how will we ever move forward from this seemingly impossible situation back to our own home, the one thing I know we all really need to fully heal.
Monica dreams of working again. She is always amazing at anything she does. Her hopes are to somehow be able to do some kind of work by at least this fall when Danica could go to preschool fulltime. I dream of living in the small home for sale across the street where we live. It is a modest home all on one floor with plenty of sun-filled windows and just big enough for our family. We would still remain close by to Monica's amazing parents and her grandmother and great aunt, Anna Mae, to help care for them. It is the dream I dream over and over again every night almost as if wishing and praying hard enough will somehow make it happen. I want Monica to come home from her follow up visit to Dr. Henderson in late January and take her there and unlock the door. As the new year approaches I have no resolutions. I read this quote the other day by Harvey MacKay. "A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline." There is no way I can make any kind of plan to make this dream come true. There is no way I can set some kind of deadline for our family to return to our own space, fling open the doors and windows and shout, "Praise God, we finally made it!" I have to continue to believe God has a plan. He has never left us. He has cared for us in unimaginable ways. He has accomplished impossible things. I will continue to hope.