Since the accident, I have discovered I prefer to lean into my grief, rather than try to avoid it. For me this means spending time with people who are willing and able to talk about Jack. I figure I probably have about 40 (!) or so years left on this earth to talk about other things, but for now, if someone isn't willing to talk about what happened, or to process with me, or to at least acknowledge our loss, I really don't have the time or inclination.
I don't mean that every waking moment has to be about Jack's death, for we still have school and jobs and housekeeping and small talk, but I consider grieving Jack to be significant, important work and I want to face it instead of avoiding it.
Christmas has been like this, too. Going through the homemade ornaments and remembering the story surrounding each one is a way of leaning into grief and experiencing it, rather than trying to pretend that by leaving them boxed up, we didn't lose our sweet son. Yes, it is hard to see them, to touch them, but the ornaments provide a natural springboard to be able to talk about Jack.
When we hold up his preschool "Peanut Jesus" (a peanut in its shell, swaddled with toilet paper and nestled in a mini raisin box) or his pathetic reindeer ornament which is really just a bare clothespin with a googly eye stuck on it-- Rudolph the One-eyed Cyclops-- we are acknowledging and feeling our huge loss while celebrating great memories.
One tradition that is definitely a keeper is the Christmas morning scavenger hunt, passed down from Tim's family. Tim writes a poem that goes from one clue to the next and eventually leads the kids to a final, "big" present. One year found us all down at the mailbox in our pj's, having been led there by poetic clues which had the kids plug certain coordinates into a handheld GPS. Another time the kids had to open a certain computer file to find their next clue. And so on and so on...
Big presents ranged from an electronic keyboard to the air hockey table that Tim and I spent most of Christmas Eve assembling. I went through a dozen sugar cookies during the frustrating process before giving up around 2 a.m. Tim stuck with it, aided by about 4 rum and cokes. Christmas morning our neighbor had to sneak into the basement under the pretense of borrowing a tool to help us turn the table, now fully assembled but upside down, onto its feet.
We have a lot of sweet videos of the kids, always together, traipsing upstairs and down, inside and out of the house, Jack reading clues at lightning speed. Tim usually stays up pretty late working on the poems and I vacillate from being a bit annoyed that this is his contribution to Christmas, as I plan and shop and wrap and hide, to being grateful that this is his contribution to Christmas because it is so meaningful for our family. I predict there will be some tender late-night tears this year as Tim writes his clues for a sister instead of a sister/brother duo.
A month or so ago I found a little stack of paper scraps in the guest room with rhyming clues written on them. I asked Margaret what they were and she said they were from a scavenger hunt her brother had made for her just for the heck of it one random day. Here are the clues, in or out of order:
To find your clue step inside,
Go upstairs I have not lied.
Your next clue is out back,
Look under a pot and that's the fact.
Go back inside and take a peek
Under the bed where the dog sleeps.
Now that you have found this clue,
I think Margaret's bedroom will do.
For your next find go back downstairs,
Look near shells your clue is there.
Almost here you're getting hot,
Go to the kitchen and look in a pot.
To find your last one,
Go to the basement for some GAME FUN.
This is your last clue,
In the guest room there's something for you.
I asked Margaret what her prize was at the end of Jack's little game. She has absolutely no idea.
I guess just like with the now-dusty air hockey table, keyboard, and whatever else we gave the kids over the years, the thrill of the hunt, or the process, meant even more than the prize itself.