Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy Holidays (so far)

So "they" told me to expect the worst this holiday season-- our first holidays without Leslie. You know "them"... "they" are really good and wise bunch of people. And "they" are indeed right more often than "they" are wrong. But in this case, I seem to be avoiding the fate "they" had prescribed... so far, at least.

Sure, there have been sentimental moments-- even difficult or sad ones. Here is just a sampling:
  • Just the other night, I was pondering with a friend my New Year's Eve plans. December 31 was always a great night for Leslie and me. We'd typically spend it alone, watching movies on the couch, enjoying the sentiment of the moment together, sharing bottle of wine. Perhaps we'd celebrate with one or two other couples, but we just weren't New Year's Eve partiers. And (no offense to the dear friends we've spent New Year's Eve with in the past), the most special "Midnight, January 1" moments were just spent alone-- she and I and our bottle of wine. We'd fall asleep on the couch, often before midnight, even. We'd wake up with couch-sleep-stiffened necks in the wee-hours of the new year, have our kiss, and then go to bed. And now, I find myself wondering... "What do I do this year?" (I'm not soliciting invitations, by the way. In fact, currently, I'm leaning toward just doing it like we always would... Put TJ to bed, watch a movie, have a glass of wine, and share the moment with the memory of her... blow a figurative kiss goodbye to 2008 and all the terror and beauty and suffering and victory and peace and love it wreaked on our lives, and welcome in 2009-- a new year... another chapter... Only maybe instead of a kiss, there will be a prayer... maybe even before I fall asleep on the couch. I'm rather looking forward to it, to be honest.)

  • TJ and I decorated the tree on Saturday-- a beautiful and full 7-ft. Frazier Fir with white lights and all the decorations we've accumulated over the years, complete with a little toy train running around the base (TJ's favorite part). It was such a wonderful time together. TJ took great pride and joy in precisely hanging each decoration. He kept looking outside and asking if it was going to snow soon. (Much to his joy, we got 3" Sunday night.) Indeed, a beautiful pallet of new memories is being painted onto a new canvass, which TJ and I will adore forever. But how do I not miss Leslie in all of that?

  • Christmas decorations were always Leslie's department. I always set up the tree in the stand and hung the lights on it, and then she took over with the decorations while I'd go outside and do the yard lights. After decorating the tree with TJ on Saturday, I ran out of time and wasn't able to get to my usual outside lights responsibility. So, we only have a tree-- a beautifully lit and decorated one at that, with its festive little toy train and the angel on top. But the outside lights will have to wait. Along with the rest of the inside decorations-- I had no idea how much of a task it is just to dig all the wreaths and garland and candles and nativity scenes and knick-knacks out of storage... And I have NO freaking idea WHERE she actually PUT all this stuff, once it was out of the boxes. It is all so overwhelming and emotional to assess and try to make sense of in my mind. I realize now how much I'd overlooked the sentiment attached to all those silly little decorations.

  • Thanksgiving with her extended family was so different. A good share of my time was spent playing basketball with the men, as is the tradition. But come dinner time, I became suddenly acutely aware that nothing else was the same. I felt that I didn't know how to just engage in casual conversation with anyone-- and I sensed they kind of felt the same way with me. I mean, how will these people-- this family that has adopted me into their fold-- ever again look me in the eyes without immediately being consumed with thoughts of Leslie? I felt loved, to be sure... appreciated, admired, even... but more than that, there was this feeling of Leslie being missed. It's the type of thing that is to be expected, and easily predicted... but the reality of it didn't sink in until the moment was upon us.
There are plenty more little examples like these, but I've already spent too much time pondering these things in this post, relative to number of "sad times" I've actually experienced, proportionate to the "happy times", so far this holiday season. You see, as I sit back and try to take "inventory" of how TJ and I are doing this holiday season, I have to say, we're doing very well. I can greet people whole-heartedly with the oft-cliche' "Happy Holidays" mantra, everywhere I go... And not feel remotely guilty or dishonest for it. I have been nearly overwhelmed this young holiday season-- as I had in the previous couple of months-- with this deep sense of passionate peace... this joy... this life. I can taste TJ's excitement as he anticipates seeing family, friends, snow, presents, and Santa Claus men. (I don't know if he's buying that there's just one Santa Claus, by the way... But rather, there are just men at the mall that dress up like that... not much different from Halloween, in his mind. And Leslie and I made the decision together last year to not really push the Santa Claus legend/myth much.) Anyway, he's excited about the season. And I am too.

On Thanksgiving Day, I began embarking on the endeavor of sending out "thank-you" notes to the hundreds of people who sent us gifts (financial and otherwise) over the past 15 months. Leslie and her mom had begun keeping a "tab" of all the gifts that were so generously and abundently arriving daily in the mail. I know some were missed or overlooked, but I think we recorded most of them. It was always Leslie's goal to sit down, "after this was all over" (in her words), and hand-write little thank-you cards to everyone, much like we did after our wedding. But alas, I am a mere man. A glorified form letter will have to suffice. But as I address the envelopes, and write recipient-specific little footnotes as I sign each card, I review the list of gifts and the people that sent them-- so many people I don't even know. And I am truly humbled and grateful for the love of Christ exemplified-- in fact lived-- through this "list" of people over the past year-plus. Anyway, in this glorified thank-you form-letter, which I penned on Thanksgiving Day, I reflected:

Today, as I ponder the memories with which Leslie left us, I am not sad. Maybe it’s just the holiday spirit… but I’m truly thankful. I’m thankful for the amazing seven years of life she gave me. I’m thankful that she’s no longer suffering, and that she is now complete in all her beauty and splendor, united with her Lord in perfect love. And I’m thankful for the life she has left us to live. I’m thankful for her today, just as I have been for the last 7 Thanksgivings. How I wish I could tell her myself, as I have each of those last 7 Thanksgivings! Instead, today, I say yet another prayer, and ask Jesus if He can let her know, on my behalf.

What I’ve really been trying to get my arms around, in terms of my gratitude this Thanksgiving Day, 2008, is how each of YOU— my family, friends, and even some strangers— have been such a wonderful example of God’s goodness, grace, and provision, in very real and tangible ways, to our family this past year-plus. Certainly, there was so much pain, sadness, hardship, tears, suffering… even death. But you— the Body of Christ— were indeed light in the darkness. Your prayers and encouragement got Leslie through many difficult days, and they continue to do the same for me these days. And perhaps even more humbling was how you all rushed to our aid in generosity and benevolence… truly a tangible symbol of God’s grace and provision.

There is a Glen Phillips song that Leslie and I used to listen to on the way to her radiation and chemo treatments. It's an up-beat, rock-style song. We'd blast it in the car when she needed a little "pep-talk". The words of the chorus simply repeated... "We've both got a lot to be thankful for. We've got a lot to be thankful for..." (and so-on.) That was her attitude-- our attitude-- in her darkest days. It is my attitude this holiday season. How can I be overwhelmed with sadness when I have so much for which to be thankful? How can I be lonely when I'm surrounded by the very tangible love of God, as lived by His people-- you, my readers, supporters, friends, and family? How can I be absorbed in the morbid thoughts of death when the reality of Heaven is so much clearer to me now? How can I mourn life lost, when the life I've gained is as full and beautiful as it is? And how can I get lost in wishing Leslie back to earthly life, when I have the reality of the life of this beautiful little boy she gave to me... and all the life he gives me?

Yes, I've got a lot to be thankful for. A lot to be joyful about. "Peace on earth..." "Emmanuel, God with us..." "For unto us a child is born..." The gift of new life. Completion of a covenant. Victory over death. And sparkly trees, toy trains, snow, and Santa Claus men at the mall...

Happy Holidays, everyone.


JenD said...

Seriously...have you ever considered a book?

JoDee said...

Glorious and Inexpressible JOY to you both this Christmas.

Anonymous said...

You are SO amazing! I love your chapters!

Sarah said...

\0/ for all He has done, is doing, and will addition to who He is. Thanks, Tyson, for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It is beautiful to read and gives me much to think about.

Bekah said...

I absolutely LOVE that last picture of TJ. Precious. 'Happy Christmas!' as Benjamin says to you and your beautiful son!

Carrie S said...

Love the pics of you guys; such true happy smiles; your eyes are shining!
God's abundant blessings upon you both this holiday season.

ann said...

Never apologize for joy, for peace, for a full and thankful heart, for a life well lived, and love freely given.

Sharon Harrison said...

Wow...that's the only word I can think of after reading this post. God has blessed you with this peace...I lost my mom to a brain tumor 5 years ago this Christmas...She only lived 20 days after her diagnosis...all that to say I can thankfully say that knowing she is not suffering and that I will see her again brings me that same peace!! God bless you and TJ...You don't know me but I somehow clicked on your blog and have the privilege to pray for you and your precious son.

Auntie Gayle said...

Thank God for the joy and peace He gives in the midst of sadness and loss. We love you, Ty, and are so glad that you are a part of our family. The hole in our family is huge--32 years of fun, fat-producing Thanksgivings with Leslie growing up with the rest of her cousins, getting married, having babies and now....we miss her so much! Thank you for sharing the day with us. We will never recover from her loss but hopefully, we will allow the loss to transform us as you are doing. Your example to all the young men out there is incredible. Even writing out the thank you notes! Now that's some good training coming from somewhere! Thanks for being YOU! Leslie has to be smiling up there. Auntie Gayle

PS Stick a wreath on the door, put out the nativity set and leave the rest. You'll be glad Dec. 26th!

Anonymous said...

After my uncle died from a brain tumor, it was comforting to have his wife still attend our get togethers. She was, and is, still a part of our family, with or without my uncle. Try to remember that it's not your presence that reminds them of Leslie, it is her absence. It has been quite a few years since my uncle passed away and she still comes to family events, but now she doesn't come alone. She brings her husband of 3 years. What a blessing to have yet another member in our family to love! I pray it will be the same for you.

Jennifer said...

Newbie here! I find that your posts' are simply amazing. The chapters of your journey are such eye openers. May you find comfort, joy & peace in all the memories you have of you dearly beloved this holiday season.

Anonymous said...

Tyson, what a beautiful and uplifting message. Your thoughts of thanksgiving made me think of another blog -- it's new but you might like it

Keep pressing on -- your openess and sharing are inspiring and God's love shines through you.

I'm still laughing about the decoration piece. The tree and the train sound like more than enough this year.

Happy Holidays!

Ronna said...

Tyson, I commented a few weeks ago about how you were teaching me to ABIDE in the midst of dealing with my mom's recent diagnosis of a brain tumor and my stepdad's diagnosis of an aggressive lymphoma. Well, Mom only lived a week after her surgery and my stepdad is now moving near to his son, so my heavy responsibily for them is about to end.

Ever since Mom's graduation to heaven on the 20th, I have felt very little grief but almost only relief that she is no longer suffering and joy that she is healed and in the very presence of God and again, you are teaching me that this is OK!

Love the \0/ that I saw in another comment, that is how I feel and thank you, Tyson, for sharing. And KISS (keep it simple, stupid) with the Christmas decorations.

Anne said...

Thank-you for your honesty Tyson. And your integrity. May God continue to be near.

Jennifer said...

Today is "Blog Comment Day".
I found your blog about a week ago. I am so sorry for your loss! I will be praying for you and TJ during your first holidays without your precious Leslie.


Anonymous said...

So happy you are feeling peace and joy. Love the beautiful pictures of you and TJ. Could he be any cuter?!:)
Praying your peace and joy continue over the holidays and new year. You are an amazing example to SO many. God Bless You Abundantly!

(I'd put out your nativity scene and leave the rest in the box!:)

Sarah Schieber said...

Tyson! Thank you for your sweet and encouraging comments left on my blog . . . thank you, most of all, for praying for Micah. Please know that I am praying for both you and TJ daily. I am thankful that you, too, are 'real.' It is refreshing!

I can't wait to read all of your blogs and catch up on your journey ( I keep trying to sit down to read them after the kids are in bed . . .but I just can't keep my eyes open - NO reflection on your blog - your thoughts are wonderful!)

Well, anyhow - may our sweet God of peace continue to sustain both you and TJ through this holiday season, and may He give to you some wonderful, new memories.


Ryan and Kristin Zeeb said...

WHOA!!! TJ's got daddy's eyebrow thing going on when he eats meat!=) Too cute!

Great entry!

Becky said...

It's great to hear how God is providing for your needs. Wishing you continued joy and peace during this Christmas season.