I shared my last Christmas with Mom ten years ago. 2005 taught me the meaning of the word bittersweet. Even now, a decade later, I look back on that time with unrestrained joy followed sharply by the pang of loss. It will always be the most memorable Christmas of my life. What surprises me is that I consider it the best. It was a pinnacle of emotion, and I never knew that a person could feel so much all at one time and survive.
Mom and I were at the hospital several times a week. I was on a first name basis with the lab staff, and I knew the coffee and cookie schedule in the waiting room. The hospital was like a second home for awhile there...Mom and I even got to the point where we could find some levity in our situation. Her experimental treatment was beginning to work, and the scans showed her Cancer slowing in growth. I'll never forget the sparkle of hope in her eye when she asked her oncologist early that December, "Will I be able to play Santa one more year?" Time: you just don't realize how overwhelming such a gift can be until "tomorrow" is no longer assumed. We were going to make it a Christmas to top all Christmases.
To add to the dichotomy, I was learning to accept end of my marriage and work through the hurt and bitterness that was left in my heart at its sudden end. In the way that it ended, unexpected for me, it induced strong feelings of grief. It was as if my spouse and life partner had died. Meanwhile, I was trying to put myself out there...meet new people and find myself again. I signed up for an online dating account to find companionship...I wanted an occasional evening of socialization...conversation in a coffee shop...maybe I would even find a friend. I had no expectations of permanency with anyone I met, I just needed to get out of my own head and away from death now and again. You see, by this time, I had decided that I wanted to live, and I wanted to love life. There were some very dark days in there, and I am profoundly grateful to have had my mother to pull me up from the abyss.
I had an online dating account for a whopping three weeks. That's how long it took for Nick and I to find one another. That's not entirely true...more accurately, that's how long it took us to connect. Part of the registration process for an online dating profile requires you to specify who you are looking to meet. I get the logic of that, but I know from my time on this earth that the best things in my life have been "off plan" so to speak. We don't always know what we want, so we outline what we think we should want. I was 24 at the time, and I think the age range I provided capped at 30.
Nick was 33 at the time and saw my profile soon after I registered. Yet, he never reached out because he didn't think he was what I wanted. Meanwhile, I could see that there was this guy who kept looking at my profile...I liked the person his profile painted, and he seemed kind, but obviously he wasn't interested in me or he would have reached out. So we played cat and mouse online for a few weeks until one of us finally broke the cycle (hint: it wasn't me). It was Christmas day 2005 when Nick contacted me the first time. Our first meeting and date was New Years Day, 2006.
I certainly wasn't in a good place to start a serious relationship. I just wanted a friend now and then. Sometimes though, if you're lucky, you meet a person who fills all the empty places inside of you and warms away all the cold. I still don't know who would sign up to begin dating someone in my position...my life was shrouded in darkness then. He didn't know me...barely at all really...but he wanted to be the person I could lean on as I said goodbye to the best woman I'd ever know.
You see, Mom got that one last Christmas, but time was running out. It didn't matter what the tests showed, we all just knew.
I never would have imagined that I would become whole again. I never thought I would enjoy another Christmas ever again...how could I? She was the joy, she was the spirit. I just got to be along for the ride all those years (or so I thought). It turns out that I was apprenticing all that time to carry on the spirit after she left...but it's at this time more than any other that it doesn't feel like she left at all. She's in every ornament I hang, every memory a Christmas carol triggers, every tradition I uphold. It's trite, but there really is magic this time of year...warmth that transcends differences, self interest, and even the divide between this life and the next.