Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas, Round Six

Sadness usually fills me with words; this year it has rendered me silent, unable to piece together what it is that I think. I feel restless, I am bereft at both ends, yet I am so full and surrounded by bliss.

Our big sister Charlotte has been on everyone's mind this Christmas, beginning with the mealtime blessing that we share each dinnertime. Somehow, on the lead of our smaller daughter, our varied blessings and honorings of Charlotte have changed this month to a very simple and plain want and need: We wish you could come back, Charlotte. Sometimes it is in Liam's clear, honest voice; other times in Aoife's little high-pitched two year old voice. But it is every night now, a sad, quiet plea: Return to us, sister, come back. We miss you here.

On Christmas Eve, we did the things that I always did as a child. Daddy read the Night Before Christmas to the children, we set out the milk and cookies. We kissed the children goodnight, with promises that if they fell asleep quickly, Santa would visit sooner and choose the best presents for them. After laying out the gifts and making sure everything was ready, I went in and kissed their warm little foreheads. I was so happy for them that magic existed in their minds; the truth to them was that somewhere over the Atlantic, a fat man with a white beard was hurtling along, sleigh full of presents, pulled by eight reindeer headed for Massachusetts. They truly believed that this mystical man would visit their home and fill their stockings with gifts. What a Christmas miracle. Could I have one, too?

But I knew I could not. I tip-toed back into my bedroom after kissing Aoife and tucking her fleecy blankets around her little face. Liam was asleep on a little mattress at the foot of my bed, my sister slept on a full-sized mattress right next to him, and Greg was already asleep in our bed. I had a little flashlight, and it was by this light that I did what I always do now 0n Christmas eve, I wrote my daughter a letter. I wrote a letter to my child who would not awaken in the morning, my child for whom there is no magic, and no Santa.

I wrote to her and I told her how much I missed her, how we all missed her this Christmas. I told her of the things we had done as a family and how much her absence was felt. In this year's letter, my focus was on one specific, unattainable wish of mine. I wish I knew what Charlotte might look like. I wish that I knew what she looked like, what she would have been at five years old, so that when I tried to imagine what Christmas would be like with all three of my children, I could do so. I would like to not have this blur-faced five-year-old sized girl child streaming through my subconscious. I only wish I could at least imagine with accuracy, even if I could not have her here.

I finished the letter, and I tip-toed back downstairs past the dark Christmas tree and through the kitchen, and I tucked it into the top of her stocking, where it rested on top of the letter Greg had written to his little girl, and on top of the few gifts and trinkets that we and her grandparents had offered to her. I noted the size of her stocking, its flatness in comparison with her siblings, which were stuffed to the brim and overflowing. I felt sad.

Christmas morning came, and joy settled into our home. Liam was the first one awake and took full responsibility for making sure that everyone else was awake for the grand migration downstairs and into the dining room to see if the stockings had been filled-- which, of course, they had. The delight of the morning were two real, wooden Nutcrackers, "just what we asked Santa for!" and Aoife cradled hers for twenty minutes, trying as hard as possible (I imagine) to look just like Clara from the ballet she had seen the week before. In addition to our family, we had my parents and sister, and Greg's parents, and the mood was very bright. I was pushing the sadness away, like we clear the windshield of water while we drive, so that I could see the beauty before me.

After some time had passed and the children had opened most of their stocking gifts, I felt a small hand on my knee, and it was Aoife standing by my side.

"Charlotte isn't here, so she can't open the presents in her stocking," she said.

"I know, sweetie. You and Liam will have to help and open them for her." I pulled her onto my lap, and she rested her head on my breast, and held onto me.

"I feel sad about that," she said.

"Me, too," I told her, and I held her so tightly onto my chest. She is only two years old. How can she know just what to say?

A few minutes later I ask her if she'd like to see if Liam wants to help her to open Charlotte's things, and so they work together, and they find a little, yellow-haired dolly wrapped in pink tissue, and the book "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf". I wonder to myself if Charlotte would even like little dolls. Aoife clutches the doll to her chest, and returns to my lap. She brings me such peace.

There are moments of sadness, long looks on other family members' faces as we are opening the gifts for Charlotte, but then we move into a big, delicious breakfast and dig into the gifts under the tree, and unaffected joy returns. I am delighted to see the children so pleased with the gifts I have made for them; hand-dyed play silks; new freshly cooked play-dough, a home-made rice table with tiny hand-turned wooden buckets and jars, a felt board, and a Greg-constructed new book stand full of low-quality but well-loved Scholastic Christmas themed books. I am surprised at how they linger; rather than tearing as fast as they can through each gift they stop with each one, trying it out, hugging and thanking its source, and near squealing with delight. There is no greed evident, simply happiness with all that is being unveiled and gratitude for those around them.

The day moves along until finally the pile under the tree has been reduced to a houseful of new surprises being tried out, a pile of boxes, a bagful of ribbon, and a giant sack full of pretty decent looking used wrapping paper to use again next Christmas. There are potatoes and cauliflower cooking in the oven, green beans and an apple-beet puree, and a local ham in the oven to enjoy. A pile of sweet confections waits on the counter. The children read their books, the snow sparkles in the warm winter sun outside, wine is poured. Charlotte is still gone. My first child is still dead.

After dinner has been served, the children are in bed, and I have plowed a path through the living room, I follow the lead that has been set and climb the thirteen stairs to my bedroom. Greg is already in bed. Liam and my sister are sound asleep. The ceiling lights are dimmed to their lowest setting, to allow those not yet in bed to see their way over the sea of sleeping bodies and under the covers for a well-earned rest. I let my clothes fall to the floor, and get into my flannel pajama shirt and blue cotton pants. Stepping out of my slippers, I carefully climb up into our high sleigh bed, crawling over the form of Greg's sleeping legs. I get to my side, and then go to reach over him to switch out the light, and I stop.

Greg is asleep, curled on his side with his back to the door where I came in. His face looks gentle, so peacefully sleeping on the white sheet, and in his arms is curled Charlotte's red and white Christmas stocking. He is holding it in his arms, hugging it to his chest, loving it as if it might bring him a moment closer to his baby girl who he hasn't held but on one day five years and seven months and two weeks ago.

I know it will not, and it makes me sad all over again to live the grief that I feel for my husband, who has lost his daughter, who feels a huge grief in his heart over his own child with whom he would have had his own, very special love and friendship.

I lay down in the darkness, sadness filling my heart. It was the best Christmas in six years, of this I can be certain. There was not one moment of the day that was not just full of so much happiness, delight, and privilege. It felt almost perfect. But there is something missing, someone missing, and I can't let that go, I just can't.

I will always miss her.


Hope's Mama said...

I will always miss her for you too, Carol.

You do bring me hope for my future, but I let out so many big sighs reading this, realising what a long way I have to go. Where can I get on the express train out of this?

You have a beautiful family Carol.

Shannon said...

If you find that express train let me know where I can get on.

Carol, your writing is always so beautiful. I think it's just what I needed right now.

ezra'smommy said...

Carol this brought tears to my eyes. Wishing you and your family many blessings this holiday season.

Meg said...

that is so heartbreakingly sweet about your husband. you must have fallen in loe with him all over again.

kris said...

I said a prayer for Charlotte this Christmas, Carol, and for you, Greg and the kids. I know she's grateful for all the ways, big and small, that you honor her.

By the way--wow, Miss Aoife looks just like you! Liam and Aoife are gorgeous, and I'm so glad to hear their Christmas was full of joy.

Sara said...

I can't get the image of Greg sleeping with Charlotte's stocking out of my head.