Two days after Thanksgiving, my father was rushed to the hospital. He was delirious, incoherent, and had lost all control of his legs. A day later, he had a seizure so severe that they had to sedate him. My life since Thanksgiving has been a series of frantic text messages, sets of calls and emails to and from every possible extended family member, and a constant confrontation with the unknown.
Without going too much into my father’s personal history, I’d thought I had long-since come to terms with my father’s compromised health. I understood that there were just going to be some things I would have to deal with before the average person does when it comes to their father. After those first 48 hours in the hospital, I came face-to-face with what I thought I had been preparing myself for and I realized how woefully unprepared I actually was. Even though he’s in a more stable condition now, it’s hard to go back from thinking you were going to have to say your goodbyes before saying, “Merry Christmas.” It’s hard to set the dial back without seeing the impression it left in the first place.
Suffice it to say, it hasn’t been the easiest December.
Out of everything that has been going on in my mind, Christmas has been at last place. I’ve had no interest in Christmas music or putting up decorations, something I usually dive into the second December 1st rolls around. It felt like, every time I thought I was ready to get into the Christmas spirit, I’d get a text message from my little brother or an email from an uncle. I’d get good news, bad news, or the job of passing that news on. And all the ornaments and tinsel and lights continued to gather dust in our closet.
Yesterday, we finally went out and cut down our Christmas tree. I decided enough was enough: I’m putting up decorations and I’m playing Christmas music and I will find the Christmas spirit if it was the last thing I’d ever do. We carried the tree into the house and set it upright in our tree stand — a green, plastic contraption that looks more like a wide volcano than a Christmas tool. I went to task of watering up the tree, going back and forth from the sink with my little watering can in hand. Two, three, four trips to the sink and the stand still wasn’t filling up. I blamed it on a super thirsty tree and continued my watering adventure.
It wasn’t until my fifth or sixth trip, when we started seeing a ring of water creeping out from under the stand, did we understand why the tree stand wasn’t filling up.
We grabbed every towel in our linen closet, as well as our space heater and our wet vac. We soaked a laundry load’s worth of towels as we desperately tried to sop up all the water. My husband started going at the carpet with the wet vac and I ran off to the store to buy a new stand and a dehumidifier.
While at the store, I got a call from one of my older brothers. With my voice low and my body tucked away in one of the corners of the building, we talked about what was going on, verbalizing a lot of things that usually went unsaid in our family. It was a comfort to hear his voice, to hear the exact things that I had been thinking but didn’t want to say, but I still went to the cashier with a palpitating heart and a forced smile after the conversation ended.
I got back home, taking a turn at vacuuming the carpet as my husband set the dehumidifier up. We joked, we made light of things, we let our frustration leak out in snarky comments about the situation. We took a break from the toweling and the vacuuming, letting the dehumidifier attempt to do what we had been working towards for the last hour.
We placed the tree in its new stand, sat down in front of the TV, and I immediately started crying.
I started crying because — dammit — today was supposed to be the day I finally got that Christmas spirit. I was going to fill the house with Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey and put every dumb little knick-knack in its dumb little corner. I was going to set up wreaths and unroll welcome mats and get something merry and bright. It was something I desperately needed and I wasn’t going to get it.
I needed Christmas spirit. I needed Christmas spirit the way a broken leg needs a cast. I needed garland like a bandaid, eggnog like medication, and carols like the words from a doctor, telling you everything’s going to be okay.
I needed the Christmas spirit because sometimes spirit is all you have. I needed Christmas spirit because I needed to be reminded that there is life outside of all this. That you can find a bittersweet victory hearing that your father is moving around with help, and then go to the local parade and smile broadly at the floats as they pass by.
But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you’re given curveballs. Sometimes you’re scrambling to fix things and it forces you to put more things on the backburner. Sometimes you’re convinced that it’s all the fault of a cheap stand with a crack along the inseam, forgetting that it’s not as simple as putting up a tree with zero issues.
The Christmas spirit isn’t something you can find or catch. You can’t slip on a Christmas CD into the stereo and realize the Christmas spirit had been under the couch all along. You can’t chase the Christmas spirit down the street, snatching it up in your arms as you look at all the pretty lights. The only thing you can do is put on the music and look at the lights and understand that the spirit will show itself on its own terms.
The only thing I can do is remember that the Christmas spirit cannot be a bandaid. It cannot be a distraction or a way to avoid. And it’s okay to feel gloomy or pessimistic or downright depressed when Andy Williams is telling you that it’s the most wonderful time of the year — and that it does you no favors to force cheer in the exact way Hallmark tells you to.
The Christmas spirit can come in the shape of hugs when you need them, tissues for when you don’t want to admit that you need them, and a reminder that this too shall pass. The Christmas spirit can come in love, in all its weird and complicated and nuanced forms. The Christmas spirit can come in remembering that you have an incredible network of people around you, support where you need support most.
I think, most of all, the Christmas spirit can come in the shape of hope. Not necessarily hope that it’ll all work out the way you want it to, but hope that it’s all happening for a reason, to teach us something we need to be taught, to put a set of events in motion that could change someone’s life for the better. It takes a lot of faith to believe that.
And, really, this is what Christmas is about: love, hope, and faith. In as much of an abundance as available. Regardless of your theological background and beliefs.
The dehumidifier is now running for its second day. Our carpet has downgraded from “micro swimming pool” to “slightly damp”. With any luck, we’ll be able to decorate our tree sometime later in the week. And we’ll do it with Bing Crosby playing in the background, our cats weaving their way around our feet, and a break for a hug or two if anyone needs it.