Angels We Have Heard

Our house is joyously festive.
The lights, Christmas tree, and cookies
are all visible to Emma this year.

As she points at each,
I see her mind
processing meaning.

Her world is full of wonder.

During this season of joy,
I am both happy and reflective.
Tuesday was Josh’s angel day.

I recently read a post in which
the writer identified his grief
as a teenager.

I had not considered it
this way before, but
it is fitting to think

of my grief as a 7-year old boy:
independent and fierce,
but still childlike and innocent.

I like to think this is what
Josh would have been like.

How does one measure grief?
Is it in years or memories?
How does one define healing?
Is it in time or steps?

Regardless, I need to remember
not only my grief,
but also our happiness.

This past weekend we helped my parents harvest their Christmas tree. It was a bit of a cluster. Courtney even had to chain up the truck to get us to the location. It isn’t as daring (or risky) as it sounds, but it was still an adventure we shared together.

As I sat in the truck with Emma,
I thought of Christmas seven
years ago. Josh bundled in the
backseat in a snowsuit my
mom tailored to accommodate
his feeding port.

It was too cold and his
body too fragile to take
him out of the truck.
He and my mom listened
to Christmas carols as Courtney
and I hustled to cut the tree.

A snapshot of the three
of us holding onto our
precious time together.

A few weeks later, Josh
took his last breath in Courtney’s
arms in the light of our tree.

In the attic at my parents,
there is a Weber barbecue box.
It is as old as I am, held together by
packaging tape and sheer stubbornness.

It holds ornaments
from their childhoods,
and glued together macaroni gifts
Emily and I made almost
three decades ago. Our handprints
and school photos a testament to our
childhood experiences together.

In this Christmas box,
there is a glittery white photo box
with JOY written in bright letters.

Each year, my mom waits
for me to be able to
place them on the tree.

She is the strongest woman
I know. Even now,
she holds me together.

I unwrapped the handprint
we made when Josh
was 9 months old.

It was a time shortly
after his diagnosis, but when
we could still pretend
we were not aware
of what was to come.

I held it in my hands
amazed by its simple beauty.
It took us multiple tries to
help him lay his infant-like hand
flat enough to capture a print.

Such a tiny moment, but also
so much happiness from its presence.

Emma and I made a similar
handprint impression this year.
It was the first ornament to be
placed on our tree at home.
It is childlike and messy; it is
beautiful in its own way.

Another tiny moment I will treasure for a lifetime.

On Tuesday, we hung Josh’s
keepsake ornaments on our tree.

His photo filling a space
between the branches
I had not before noticed.

Like Emma, I see things
now that I hadn’t seen before.

I re-read my blog post “Doing What I Love”
from this same date a year ago.

It still rings raw my emotions.
I am unsure how another year
has gone by without him.

So much changes in a year;
yet, my memory of our life
with him is steadfast.

They say a writer should
set deadlines to hold oneself
accountable to her craft.

My deadline is one
post per month.

I missed my mark
by a full month.

My hesitation:
wanting to find
the right words,
the right time,
the right form,
the right purpose.

I should have remembered
balance is not always possible
and at some point I
need to stop using it
as my excuse and
write what I want to say.

Kelly Gallagher, @kellyGtogo, recently tweeted the following from Sheridan Blau, “Obsession with form makes writing about form. You do not write because you are going to fill out a form. You write because you have something to say.” This was the reminder I needed that we all have something to share and often we are our most aggressive critic about our writing.

I have the privilege of teaching a Dual Enrollment College Writing course. A few weeks ago when I mentioned I choose to pay a fee so my blog will appear advertisement free, my students were shocked. I explained I am proud of myself for investing in myself.

“So you, like, just write about random stuff.”

“Well, yeah.”

As I reflect on it now, I wish I would have been confident enough to add, “isn’t that what the stories of our lives are.”

I want to model for my students that writing isn’t about the perfect essay or the 100% on an assignment. It is about having something to say and believing in yourself enough to share it. My writing process is messy and unrefined. It is not that I don’t appreciate form or recognize the need for it in formal writing, but it is more that I want them to walk out of my classroom with an understanding that there is not a template to write into for life. Our lives, like our writing, often needs to be messy.

It is challenging to explain to someone the messiness of the emotional drain of an angel day. I think of Josh daily and this time of year it seems there are so many reminders of his love. When “Angels We Have Heard on High” comes across my radio, I pause and remember a church filled with friends and family singing through our sobs. Courtney’s dad shared with us this year that it was on this week seven years ago that he knew how strong our community was.

On Tuesday, Courtney and I received messages and phone calls from friends who were thinking of us and Josh. It means so much to us that people remember our handsome man. One friend and I exchanged these messages:

We are thankful for our memories and our friends who treasure them with us.  On weeks like this, there are moments when the sunlight catches my tattoo just so and I pause to relish the moment.

There are also moments
even in the joyfulness of
the Christmas season
that I need both the sunlight
and the darkness

Tonight, there is no moon
so I stare into the abyss.
The sunlight a day ago
brought me hope
gave me courage
encouraged me to be graceful.

But tonight I choose to
embrace the silent darkness
and the tranquility that
comes from its presence.

The familiar lyrics surface in my thoughts,
“Angels We Have Heard on High
sweetly singing o’er the plains
and the mountains in reply
echoing their joyous strains”
and I am comforted.

4 thoughts on “Angels We Have Heard”

  1. We love you Wendy, Court and Emma! We will always remember our precious Josh💕 HUGS to each of you – Uncle Ted and Aunt Carol ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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