We walk in the back door from the carport and the kids rush ahead to the tree, eyes round and ready. I can’t help it, but I notice the envelope sticking out from one of the top branches. I wonder how late he stayed up this year to hide the clues. He’s a sing-song poet and his simple lyrics and rhythms get good laughs every year.
He always wears the same button-down red sweater at Christmas and passes out Santa hats to the kids. That sweater clashes with the burgundy chair in the corner where he sits with a big pair of scissors on his knee. He knows scissors are important for those plastic ties in the toys and he takes great delight in being the gatekeeper to fun.
Last year when my sister-in-law got engaged, I told him he should write a poem about that, now that we’re having another addition to the family. He semi-ignored me, smiled a little. But sure enough, days later on Christmas, there is was. We read it out loud and marveled how he found a way to use the word leggy.
That was the last poem he wrote that I know of. This will be our first Christmas without him.
We’re not sure how to do this thing called grief, especially at this time of year. How do you hold the memories without falling apart? For a girl who likes to do things right, this whole thing feels wrong. We can’t detour around this brokenness. The only way out is to walk right through. It’s a tunnel we’ve been traveling since his cancer diagnoses, but during the holidays the tunnel can feel especially dark. I watch my husband and his siblings enter into this season without their dad, my kids without their grandfather. My son asked just this morning Will Duke ever come back? I tried to stay upbeat when I said No baby, he won’t.
Christmas this year will be different. We’ll be searching for normal under piles of paper but I know normal doesn’t show up that way. It will be years to find a new one and we’ll look back on the years he was with us and say it felt like a lifetime ago.
Every year Emmanuel means something different. Life peels back more layers and we’re left standing raw until they heal. But God coming down to this gritty, dusty, land of the dying makes every difference in our hope for living. He is with us. He is in us. He is here.
How will Christmas be different for you this year?