“Melissa, you’re brilliant!” I thought to myself.  

I had this great idea to spend our first holiday after Dave’s death in Disneyland.  What a perfect distraction, right?  I walked downstairs where the boys were playing video games – they were 11 and 14 at the time – and exclaimed something like “wouldn’t it be fun to fly to Disneyland for Christmas this year?”.  

I was expecting whooping, hollering and excitement from them, but instead they looked at me like I was a crazy lady.

“OK, then what about a fun cruise to Mexico?!?”.  Crickets.

Finally, one of the boys stated that they just wanted to do what we always did.  Go cut down a tree, string the lights, decorate it and have lots of presents under the tree to unwrap Christmas morning.

And this was the absolute last thing that I wanted to do.  I needed a distraction from the impending doom of the holidays.  I couldn’t bear to even think about what Christmas Eve and Christmas Day would feel like without the physical presence of Dave.  

But, I heard my kids and let them take the lead in how we would spend the holidays.  We got the tree from a local Christmas tree lot because I never enjoyed trudging through Oregon mud to chop a tree down, so that was an added bonus for Mom and they shook all the needles off before wrapping it up and tying it to the car – another bonus.

The boys and I got the tree straightened onto the stand and things were going OK until it came time to string the lights.  This was never my job – this is what Dave did!  Dave was a real calming presence for me and I didn’t see him get flustered very often, especially stringing lights on a tree.

The lights were not cooperating and I was getting really frustrated and angry with the whole process and then waves of sadness, anger and loneliness overcame me.  With my face buried in the tree I cried.  I let all the emotions move through me because, honestly, that’s all I could do at that moment.  

I was doing hard things…my kids were doing hard things.  We were moving through the hardest times of our lives and we were doing it together, without Dave.

I took some deep breaths, paused for a bit then asked them to help me. My boys and I strung the lights and decorated the tree with the usual clunky mix of store-bought and handmade ornaments.  They even continued their tradition of hiding Lego guys and action figures in the branches for me to find.

I’m not going to lie.  That Christmas was incredibly difficult but I’m glad my kids shared with me what they wanted.  I’m thankful that I listened and I honored their wishes for stability and sameness.  And I’m grateful that we had each other and were moving through the holidays together, our little family of three.