Just before Christmas, in 2002, Megan and I met. A few weeks later, and I was already invited to her family’s home for Christmas dinner and gifts. I was accepted into their clan with open arms, and I’ve been a part of their family ever since. I’ve been at Christmas dinner in 2005, not long after Megan’s brother died. I was there in 2010, a week before Megan got her lung transplant, where we weren’t sure if she would be there for 2011. I was there in 2014, a month after Megan died, followed a few weeks later by both her grandmother and great-grandmother.
I was there last year, where it seemed there were more people missing from the family than were present. By Christmas this year, Megan’s grandfather has also passed.
One would think that this holiday would become more and more somber each year. The family is seemingly shrinking, if one looks only at those that are no longer here.
The ghosts of Christmases past are just that...past. They’re always remembered as happy times when that particular person was there, and lord knows this family has seen enough people go to have a hell of a stiff upper lip about it. The fact of the matter is, every family experiences loss...Megan’s is no different in that respect. They may have lost two at a young age due to illness, but Christmas must go on. Stories always persist about Megan, or her brother, or their grandparents. Shelby is old enough now that she has stories of Christmases past herself.
The entire evening that we were there, memories appeared, were discussed humorously, without a hint of sadness, and laughed about. Nobody was sulking or tearing up about the now smaller gathering of people.
No, that never happened, and the gathering is not any smaller. The present is a new, slightly different experience. Instead of just Shelby being “the baby”, there are now two other toddlers running around, with another baby on the way (Megan’s brother and his fiance are expecting). Shelby is the oldest of her generation (which still is odd to me), and has had nine years of these festive nights. She “knows the ropes” so to speak. She follows the little ones around, making sure their hands stay out of the cookie jar and that they are well supplied with gifts to open. She was standing in for Megan, without even knowing it.
That first christmas, just after Megan and I met, I already had a stocking on her mother’s mantle. A few years later, Shelby’s was added, bringing the total to 5. By this year, there are 8. Terri (Megan’s mother) has never neglected to put up stockings for the two of her three children that are gone. They are just as much ghosts of Christmas present as they were in the past, only their traditions and memories live on in people like Shelby. The young couple, marrying soon and expecting a child has picked up the torch in the form of Megan’s youngest brother. His fiance, and their current son both have stockings, as does Sarah. This was her first year experiencing Christmas with this family. Terri sees the love that both Shelby and I have for Sarah, and has welcomed her into the family just as I was. They will never have the relationship that a mother does with her own daughter, but that doesn’t make Sarah any less of member of the family.
This brings us to the ghosts of Christmases yet to come. There WILL be more death in this family, it’s inevitable. Just the same, there will also be joyous times. There will be more christmases. The will be new wives and husbands and daughters and sons. There will be babies that become teenagers that become adults, with their own stories to tell of Christmases past. There will be stories told of sending me out into the cold rain to buy a corkscrew, while Sarah ends up opening the wine bottle anyway with a wooden spoon in my absence. There will be stories of Shelby convincing her grandfather that she was drinking a glass of champagne, when all it was was sparkling grape juice.
In Christmases yet to come, there will be stories of the ghosts of christmases past, told in the present by a changing cavalcade of people. The key here is that the family, much like the stockings on the mantle, never shrinks in number...but it grows in memories.