It was a lovely Christmas, really. Besides the usual presents under the tree and stockings hung by the chimney with care, and carols playing on the stereo, we had babies taking baths, crowing at each other, sucking on washcloths, and splashing. img_0120.jpgAs my friend Nancy said, “Now we know why God invented double sinks.”

We had my husband and me, sitting on the kitchen floor with the three grandchildren, laughing. That is Charlie and Josh, measuring each other, while their cousin Miles looks on with envy. He is clearly wondering who you have to know to get your own big brother around here.

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And we had the dog posing as William Tell’s son, although I’m happy to report that no one shot an arrow at him.

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For a while life was so chaotic here that we all seemed to be doing triage, rushing from one tumultuous situation to another. But there was plenty of food, and laughter, and music–and lots of time to cuddle children and read stories. By the time Christmas was over and we had packed everyone off to their respective homes, we were so tired we had to pretty much take to our beds. The next day I got up and mailed off all the things they had forgotten to take home with them.

Then today, Hospice called.

“Sandi? How are you doing?” the social worker said.

“Well…I’m fine,” I said. The caller ID hadn’t said anything about Hospice.

“Really?” she said. She sounded surprised, like it might not be okay to say you were fine. Not after you lost your mom to cancer just six months ago.

“It was a good Christmas,” I told her. “Of course, I miss my mother terribly, but there were babies here, and my whole family came, and there was a lot going on.”

She was silent, respectful.

I didn’t tell her about the dog with the apple on his head or the double sink, or how I played one of my mother’s favorite songs on the stereo but didn’t mention to anyone that it had been her favorite song. Or how sometimes lately I wake up at night thinking about those Christmases I had a long time ago…when my mother decorated the house with little styrofoam ornaments with toothpicks and sequins, and how she would whip up Ivory Snow detergent into what looked like snow, and have my father coat the boughs of our Christmas tree with it. Bowls and bowls of it. One year she used 24 boxes of Ivory Snow. For years the smell of Christmas was for me the lovely fragrance of laundry soap.

But when I hung up, I sat there for a long time thinking about all of that.

The best Christmases are mixed, I think. The fun of being with little children and seeing family members try to reach out toward each other…all that new bright happiness can’t help but be more lovely when it’s mixed in with the awareness of loss. And the fact that when you look around, you realize that everyone else is struggling with some form of loss as well. No one gets by untouched.

I miss my mother now almost more than I did when she first passed away. As time has gone by, I’ve replaced the memory of those last hospital days with the larger memories of when I was a child and she was the person I depended on most in the world.

It’s a wistful feeling, of course. And fleeting–just like the smell of pine needles drenched in 99 44/100% pure Ivory soap.