It was only a week or so before Christmas day 2004, and I hadn’t bought a gift.
Or gotten a tree, much less decorated it.
Or put up one Christmas decoration. There wasn’t one thing in my house that would have indicated it was the holiday season, unless you could have found a calendar. But even the calendar probably didn’t show the right month.
It was the first Christmas after my wife, Tracie, had died just two months earlier. And I still swear to this day that there were about three months following her death that I really didn’t have a clue as to what was happening.
Unfortunately, our first Christmas with just me and the kids. My daughter was 11, and my son was just one.
And I was, in a vast understatement, a mess.
But somehow in that period of darkness, I was hit with the reality of it all – those two kids needed a Christmas. They deserved a Christmas, something normal in a time of such sadness.
And that thought gave me purpose, something to work toward. Doing something for someone else besides me.
It was probably the first time in two months that I actually put some thought into an activity. Sure, there had been work. And there had been friends. And buying groceries, and cooking, and maybe I might have even cleaned a little something in the house from time to time. But all of that was just going through the motions. None of it took any real thought.
But the kids. And Christmas. Finally, there was something that needed most of actual attention (well, more than I had expended in some time).
And there I was, getting a tree, and having us decorating it. Together. Sure, it wasn’t quite the same, but it was a start. A new start.
I bought gifts for the kids. And for others. And it felt good to be doing something for somebody else. It felt good to focus on trying to focus on the needs of others, rather than dwelling in my own grief.
Christmas morning that year was different, but still very special. A quiet time with just me and the kids. There were still gifts. Santa didn’t forget to visit us either. And there was probably more chocolate than I needed in any one lifetime.
And then there was dinner. The only way I could have ever prepared a turkey and dressing dinner was to buy a Swanson’s TV dinner for each of us. So that was out.
Instead, we turned to something that I could cook. And something that wouldn’t require hours of cooking
For our first Christmas dinner, me and the kids had tacos. Of everything we could have picked, I’m not sure why we settled on tacos. I suppose because my daughter and I both liked them. And my son . . . well, he was stuck with whatever flavor of Gerber’s happened to be handy that day.
It wasn’t an easy time for any of us. But it was a special Christmas for us, still. It was one that showed us, me especially, that grief is part of life. And while our Christmas traditions have been difference since, we’ve created new traditions. And new memories together. And we’ve grown stronger, the three of us have.
And we still have tacos every year at Christmas.