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.
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.