When I wrote this almost six years ago, everything still felt kind of new and exciting and painful and raw. I was two years into my marriage. I was four years out from my divorce and the death of my sister, Ashley, which happened within months of each other. Georgia was only 18 months old. My older daughter had just turned 7. My stepson wasn’t even a teenager yet. We were all still getting to know one another.
That was the first year Robert and I decorated for Christmas together, and we had nothing except my sister’s things.
Looking back on it now, everything has changed. And so much is the same.
We’ve moved, from our cramped three-bedroom rental in Mid-City to a house that we fell in love with and bought not long after Georgia turned 2 – which is a cramped three-bedroom in Broadmoor.
Our kids, for better and for worse, are now comfortable enough to bicker like the siblings they are.
Robert and I, too, are out of the “honeymoon phase” – now neither of us would happily agree to go buy ornaments at Target this time of year just to bask in shared family time.
Georgia is a hilarious, slightly manic 7-year-old who seems to actually be getting her two front teeth for Christmas this year.
Ruby is mere days away from being a full-fledged teenager – who still wants to talk to me most of the time!
Elliot is a legal adult whose college acceptances are starting to roll in. None of us has quite wrapped our brains around the fact that he will be moving out in the fall.
The wounds from our divorces are mostly healed, and all four of us – me, Robert, and our respective exes – all get along and share the major milestones in the lives of our kids.
The death of my sister – and my brother and Robert’s brother – though … well, we haven’t healed from those. We can’t. We never will.
Given that, I think the current state of our Christmas tree is actually perfect. It’s fitting. It matches our lives.
When we put that tree up all those Christmases ago, it was just my sister’s things. We still have those, although we put fewer up every year because now we have ornaments our kids have made, ornaments we’ve bought together, and ornaments we’ve been given at PTA events or by friends. We have ornaments for each of the kids with their names, birthdates, and birth weights listed on them. We have ornaments for our alma maters and ornaments to celebrate the various hobbies and passions our kids have entertained over the years.
We still put Ashley’s angel on top of the tree. We still hang Ashley’s wreath on the door. We still use her tree skirt – but this year, when I shook it out, it no longer had even the slightest smell of her or her house.
We’ve integrated Ashley into our new traditions. We’ve added our own family mementoes to her Christmas cache.
In the past six years, we’ve gained so much. But we will never forget what we’ve lost.