The thing is, she would tell us to put the Christmas tree up, even now. I know this because the day after Thanksgiving last year, the day after we brought her home from a two week stay at the hospital to in-home hospice care where a nurse named Faye marched in and informed us she’s dying, duh. Get with the program, and we didn’t eat turkey or have much to be thankful for, we still managed to put up the Christmas tree and she watched with a smile on her face.
If she could have gotten off the couch, she would have, to straighten the ornaments and rearrange the matryoshka Santa and red star candle on the fireplace mantle so that everything was evenly spaced.
She would have made the cookies, too, and I know this because she made my grandma drive her to the grocery store right before Christmas to buy the ingredients. I found them stashed in the cupboard a few days after the funeral.
This is the thing about traditions that I both love and hate right now : if we do them long enough, they are so deeply woven into who we are that even as a part of us mourns them, yet we still feel utterly compelled to do them. To not do them would sharpen the pain and absence and longing further, pull us deeper into the darkness. And she would hate that. There are times when going through the motions of tradition helps a family survive, and maybe even discover the good tidings and great joy for which this season exists :
Emmanuel, God with us.
God with us in the darkness, bringing light, bringing hope.
So the tree will go up. The mantle will be adorned with the matryoshka Santa and the bright red star candle and the lace nativity. The cookies will be made, if I can find the recipe. Mannheim Steamroller will play in the background. And when we turn round the living room to survey the splendor of our own nostalgia and tradition, we will see her. Her straightening the star on the tree. Her rolling cookie dough, covered in flour. Her practicing Christmas carols at the piano. Her on the couch, trying to enjoy these last twinkle-lit moments with us.