There was another post I wanted to write for Christmas yesterday, but it felt too maudlin for the joyous occasion, and I hope you’ll excuse its proximity to the holiday here.
I stumbled across the picture above and today’s post wrote itself, coming into focus in a flash, as I transported myself back to the small-town clapboard Church nestled in snowfall I visited not long ago.
About five years ago, I spent Christmas in upstate New York. We were gathering around a loved one who was dying. We brought our merry best, but the holiday was somber, and we were all living on heart-strings. I found my siblings quietly brushing tears out of their eyes when they thought no one was looking, and then laughing too loud and riotously when they knew people were. There were awkward exchanges, lags of unusual silence, ungainly attempts at humor, and we wordlessly forgave those gaffes as we tiptoed around the real reason we were there. We were tacking and jiving inelegantly as we attempted to accommodate an impossible emotional ballast.
On Christmas Eve, we walked two snow-covered blocks to a small white Church similar to the one above, and the rhythms of Mass were a comfort, though my mind was elsewhere. I didn’t want to leave the Church, but then again, I did — I craved distraction, or resolution, or something I could wrap my arms around. Anything but that purchaseless wait. Mainly I worried for my sibling, who would soon be bearing a grief greater than life and we all knew it.
On Christmas Eve, my sister and I stayed up after everyone else had fallen asleep. We sat on a couch in the living room, her face silhouetted against the moonglow from the snow outside, and we exchanged little nothings in the absence of having big somethings to say. We tried desperately to hack into Mr. Magpie’s iTunes account to watch “Meet Me in St. Louis,” a shared favorite of ours from childhood. It holds such potent personal memory for us that she had the Judy Garland version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (which is from the movie) played at her wedding reception a few weeks before Christmas two years later, just for me. And I cried at her sentimentality not only because it is our song and she carved out a special place on her special night for me, but because it reminded me of our fruitless attempts to watch that scene that night in New York when we were heart-broken and in despairing search for a salve, sitting in the dimly lit room together, anticipating something entirely different from what we’d anticipated the twenty-odd years of Christmas Eves prior.
Christmas hasn’t quite felt the same for me ever since I saw it through the prism of imminent grief, ever since I found my attention fasten upon a different kind of meaning to the word “family.” I felt at once deeply connected to and alienated from everyone, each of us processing the finality of death in our own ways, each of us agonizing for my sibling.
When we gather under brighter circumstances, after years that answer, I feel a richness of emotion I can’t quite put my finger on. It has the shape of gratitude, but it’s more deeply situated, tempered by the weight of that Christmas five years ago, aware of the threatening evanescence of our good health and high spirits. Is this maturity, I wonder? Is this the world-weariness that comes with age and experience? Do certain holidays and rooms in old homes and sweaters we have loved and smells we have hated accrue a kind of layered meaning as we travel through life such that much of what we touch, much of what we interact with on a daily basis, becomes a pastiche of mottled emotion? Where the mere phrase “Merry Christmas” can conjure twenty five separate feelings at once, and some days I clutch onto the Christmas Eve excitement of my youth and others I shy away from the weight of an early January death?
+Now feels like an appropriate time to talk about the sense of an ending but then, maybe, we should lighten the mood. What do you think?
+These mismatched earrings are so fun!
+OK THIS IS MAJOR. Perfect dress for a milestone birthday.
+Have always loved these Herend bunnies — what an #extra baby gift for a loved one. Etsy has loads of vintage ones at great prices, too — like this one. I often get questions from readers about what to get a mother/mother-in-law/grandmother who has EVERYTHING, and I like to suggest a sentimental piece of vintage Herend. I bought my mother one of their classic Herend shoes after mini was born as a thank you for all of her care and love, and she already has one for each of her children so I thought — why not one more for a new grandbaby?
+Traveling somewhere warm soon? Loving this, everything from Banjanan, and this swimsuit. (PSA: two of my favorite bathing suits EVER are on sale right now: Marysia’s Venice, which I own in black, and Solid & Striped’s Anne Marie, which I own in an aqua and white cabana stripe. The cuts of both of these suits are magical.
+I had a bunch of questions about my pink silk Target headband find and I am obsessed. The quality is great for the price. Do know that it’s a wide headband — more of a turban look — but I’m very into it. You can read more about this collection of hair products — and see how a very chic blogger styles them — at Sincerely Jules.