Some years, Christmas is hard. Sometimes, it isn’t the most wonderful time of the year at all. For whatever reasons. This year has been very difficult for me to find and completely engage the holiday spirit for more than a few hours at a time. It started before we went to Chicago to visit Russ’ parents. I was sick; I felt awful. I knew that I really shouldn’t go because whatever I had was probably something that other people could catch. But I also knew that Russ had been waiting for nearly six months to go check on his dad after the accident where he broke both of his legs and did not want to be responsible for us not getting to go on the trip. I felt pretty awful the whole trip and really just wanted to sleep and stay in bed as much as possible. But Russ’ mom had her heart set on getting out and trying to enjoy time with us, and time not on her own. How do you deny someone that, no matter how lousy you feel? So we went and we did and I took lots and lots of cold, sinus, and flu meds each and every day in order to function as normally as possible. Thankfully, most days we were outside in the open, so my germs weren’t being passed directly to many people. (I honestly feel awful about not getting tested for flu or covid before we left; it was completely irresponsible.)

We came home and before we even went home, I made Russ take me to the Urgent Care, where I tested positive for the flu. I wasn’t surprised at all. Since I had already battled it almost a week, however, there was nothing they could give me to try to fight it. So I came home and loaded my system with more of the over-the-counter medications that I’d already been using the whole time we were in Chicago. It didn’t go away. It still hasn’t, fully. I went back and was tested for strep throat. The test was negative, but the Nurse Practitioner wasn’t convinced that it wasn’t a false negative. However, she prescribed an antibiotic that was very similar to penicillin, to which I have an allergy, and the pharmacist refused to give it to me, in case of an allergic reaction. So, I’m left to battle whatever this is on my own. I’m not happy about that at all. My energy is zapped, and I feel like I’ve been run over by a Mac truck a few times and left lying there.

On top of that, my sweet baby girl, Sophie Britannia, left us on December 21. She was 17.5 years old. We knew it was coming but losing her still hurt. It’s hard to be in the Christmas spirit when you’re grieving. That’s all I’ll say about that, because it still hurts, and I will continue to miss her.

I had debated weeks ago whether or not to put up a Christmas tree. Ours is really big, and to be completely honest, neither of the spots I usually put it were exactly vacant. The spot by the front window in the living room is a favorite hangout for the kids. And I didn’t want them climbing in the tree to look out the window instead. The far wall, until December 19, was stacked about five-foot-high with one hundred Scentsy Buddies for the White Christmas project in Tazewell. There just wasn’t room for a tree. By the time there was, I was sick and heartbroken and didn’t feel like doing it.

Then I went looking in my little Christmas closet to make sure that I had all the gifts for my cousins’ kids out of it. And that was when I found another tree. It may not be the grandest, flashiest, or most decked out, but it is a tree – with purple tinsel, purple lights, and a bow at the top. It’s made of tobacco sticks. I bought it at a craft fair where I sold books about three years ago. The grandson of the woman who made these trees had a terminal illness — I can’t remember his name or hers now, but I immediately said a prayer for that family when I saw it in the closet tonight. I remembered her own heartache that Christmas when we talked about how she had come to make the trees and she told me about her grandson. I carried it into the living room, shorter than I am, and placed it against the wall where the Scentsy Buddies had been. I remembered the big, elegant white tree sitting there a few years ago, and Sophie camped out on the luxurious purple tree skirt beneath it. And instead of crying, I smiled. Because, even though the timing of her departure made me sadder, I know that she passed before she was in terrible pain. She let me know when she was ready, and we did what needed to be done. She was always in charge in our household. I instinctively knew that she would have approved of the humble little tree standing in the living room, and I was comforted by that. I was comforted by the presence of the tree itself, and then of the presents that I placed beneath it for Russ and me from friends and family. It reminded me of the simplicity that can bring true peace during the busy-ness and chaos od Christmas.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, however you do or don’t celebrate this time of year, I wish you health, happiness, and a heart full of love and compassion in a world that doesn’t always reflect those qualities. Know that you matter; know that you are part of the beauty of the intricacies of this pageant called life; know that you are loved. Merry Merry. And Happy Happy.