There's a certain start and stop quality to my decorating this year. Last night we began decorating the Christmas tree. This morning I did a bit more. Last year we didn't have a tree. Ooops, I take that back. There was a temporary tree bought the prior month at a yard sale for $2. I put it together certain that parts would be missing since I came by it so cheaply. Instead I found it was a beautiful five footer with all the necessary limbs to look very tree like. I also discovered in moments prior to decorating it that young Bogeysattva who was spending his first Christmas with us had the necessary limbs, four of them, enabling him to scale the inner tree like a little round about as he went from one level to the next ultimately to perch and peer from the top. To Bogey's dismay, I disassembled his new jungle gym and put it away in exchange for a tiny tabletop tree with magical dancing lights built into the limbs.
So yes, I technically had a tree, but not one that allowed the hanging of my ornament collection from over the years. This Christmas I determined to try again hoping Bogey had 'matured' or had found satisfying, higher hiding spaces that he didn't have last year.
Decorating the tree has been a beautiful experience thanks in part to the ornaments that come from places and people who have been dear to me. Many of them are gifts from the women on my family tree and from travels afar and just down the road.
Last night though was different. Last night was hard. Last night I realized in the more recent years I've accumulated things beyond ornaments surrounding the holidays. Last evenings challenges began with the many cat ornaments I discovered I have...and they're unrelated to Mystery and Bogey. These are the ornaments from the eighteen years Templeton spent Christmas with me.
The last 'real' Christmas tree I had was 2007. I still recall the happiness I felt as I heard Templeton lapping up the water from the tree stand. I was grateful to find she liked tree water, since she like me didn't drink enough in winter. I learned early in the new year that Templeton was dying. I also learned chemicals in tree water can be highly toxic to pets. This may not have been the primary cause of her death, but I did not want another 'live' tree. I didn't want to fear Bogey and Mystery's finding a new water source or be reminded of Templeton's little lapping sounds.
I forget memories and emotions can't be avoided. I was reminded of Templeton with every cat ornament that went on the tree last night. I kept decorating only to be reminded of the year prior. How we got the phone call as I was considering undecorating the tree. The phone call informed us that a dear friend had died. We had seen him a couple of weeks prior to Christmas when my nephew rushed him from West TN to the Vanderbilt emergency room. That holiday included a stay in the hospital for Jonathan who was so spirited and young. His cancer had only been found earlier that Spring and by Christmas he looked nothing like himself physically yet his light shown through as bright as a star atop the tree.
We got the phone call and I undecorated the tree in minutes. That's no exaggeration. Jerry walked into the room and said "What are you doing? What happened to the tree?" My response to not wanting to feel regarding Jonathan's death was to undecorate the tree faster than I could feel. I still remember thinking, 'I am distracting myself from feeling the loss of Jonathan.' This is another reason I've not really enjoyed decorating a tree.
Then there's my father. The Christmas of 2005. We thought his last Christmas might be 2004 after receiving his cancer diagnosis earlier that summer. I write we 'thought' because no one actually said it yet many of us including my aunt from Alabama traveled to Middle TN for the Christmas meal. We showed up and of course my father didn't. He left home early that morning having unbeknownst to us volunteered to work all day allowing younger coworkers to be at home with their children. Meanwhile my father's family gathered without him and acted as if all was normal when it wasn't.
Month's passed and Christmas 2005 arrived. Some of us wondered between ourselves if my father would die on his father's death, Dec. 23. Papaw, as we called him, died in intensive care just down the street from me the day before Christmas Eve in 2001. For several days prior, I traveled Natchez Trace visiting him during the allotted hours as well as seeing my parents often taking them pumpkin pie lattes from the new Starbucks in the area.
My grandfather lay in the bed for days often repeating over and over the phrase "Lord's Prayer. Lord's Prayer." I volunteered to say the Lord's Prayer with or for him and he'd firmly say, "NO." This was the man I had known all my life by whom my father was reared. The man who was in control and controlling was loosing control. I'll never forget singing to him, at the moment I don't even recall the song, trying to help him find peace. He told me he didn't want me to sing, but I did. Instead of saying, "That's disappointing or sad" I sang anyway. I knew the words to Amazing Grace or whatever it was, but I didn't listen to the words of my heart, the words that would have been unscripted, personal.
I thought my father would live through the holidays in 2005 or at least be held hostage without being able to get in his car and avoid us the way he did the year prior. He ended up with hospice care in a hospital bed at home for our last Christmas together. I was so grateful to be able to sit by his bed and just be rather than have another funeral to hang on memory's tree, but even then there was a Christmas tree, a small one like the one I had last year that sat on the bedside table in his room.
I had no idea when I first started writing this that I would cry my way through holidays prior. All I knew was I wanted to own the fact that decorating a tree had been surprisingly hard for me. Now I know why. I've privately and at times openly grieved all the above losses but like Bogey going round and round last years Christmas tree, each time an anniversary arrives there's another layer to be felt, another rung to be climbed revealing a new perspective.
Having nearly completed the forced decoration of the tree, I want a do-over. I want to redecorate the tree from an engaged place allowing tears to flow if there are any left. Then it occurs to me, have you ever seen anyone actually crying as they put ornaments on a tree or a wreathe on the door? I haven't and the thought of my doing so prompts the fear of folks thinking, 'What is her problem?'
I'll tell you what my problem's been. I have spent far too much of my life especially the 2000's not allowing myself to express what I'm feeling. This has been the elephant in my world as I began writing about in the prior Musing "Elephants in the House of Love."
So if you see me or talk with me or think of me this holiday and I'm crying, please don't have pity or feel sad for me. Be glad I'm allowing the greenery that grows in my heart to be alive and nourished. I'm resuscitating my heart through beautiful sadness while honoring all of those in my life, Templeton, Jonathan, my father and grandfather, whose lives are sweet ornaments on the tree of my heart. With that in mind and heart, it's not enough to say, "Happy Holidays." More truthfully it's "Happy, Sweet, Sad, Dear, Deep Holidays."
P.S. I could not complete this story without completing the tree. Once again I went into the cold basement and dug out the last of the ornaments and the angel to top the tree. The sugar plum fairy I made from dough forty years ago and saved by my mother all these years is now tucked in the limbs near Ragged Ann and Andy from the same period. The angel....well that's another story. She broke. Her head broke to be exact. I didn't even know it was glass until she tipped over on the tile floor. Bogey immediately began batting chunks of angel head about as I thought, 'This is a strangely perfect metaphor reminding me of the necessity to get out of my head and live from my heart.'
As for the cats, thus far the only ones in the tree are the ornamental, hanging kind. Hopefully this will not change since Bogey, while I decorated the tree, discovered the top of the refrigerator, a warmer, higher place from which to survey his kingdom as I am in the process of discovering the kingdom of my heart.
Happy, Sweet, Sad, Dear, Deep Holidays to You and Yours and may this holiday find you dwelling inside your heart. --Dawn! The Good News Muse 12/09