Christmas is on Friday and we're going "home" for Christmas on Wednesday, and the list of things I need to accomplish before then seems to have taken on a miraculous quality: no matter how many items I check off, the list keeps growing.
I'm not normally the type of person who stresses over all the stuff I have to do, but on Sunday night I was feeling the heat a bit, and I did some hand-wringing before bed.
There are so many ways I could drop the ball this week. What if I forget to unearth some of the presents from their various hiding places and I leave an important one behind, and it's missing under the tree on Christmas morning? What if I forget to pack my brand-new, carefully chosen outfit and have nothing to wear to Bryan's ten-year high-school reunion on Saturday evening? What if I forget to bring the diapers, for heaven's sake, and we have to put the baby in disposables and spend eleven days in He Might Explode At Any Time limbo?
I was feeling very busy and important, let me tell you. I have all these things to accomplish! Surely it's understandable for me to be frazzled and grumpy and impatient with my children!
Monday morning I woke up to the news that something tragic had happened to people I love.
They were looking forward to an especially joyful Christmas, and now they'll be struggling into the commemoration of Christ's birth under the weight of unspeakable sadness.
And here I was stressing because of what? The possibility that we might be one gift short on the 25th? That I might have to wear borrowed clothes to an event? That the baby might need a couple extra baths? Tiny details that I won't remember in a month, let alone years from now.
Branwen and I took our kids to Mass yesterday to pray for our loved ones, especially for our cousin who is living every mother's worst nightmare right now. Afterward we went back to Branwen's house and spent the afternoon together. The children played, and when they would get close enough to allow it, we grabbed them and hugged them tightly. We said a quiet Divine Mercy Chaplet in between wiping noses and handing out snacks. We talked about the tenuousness of life and how often we forget to be grateful for the blessing of our children awaking alive each morning, their bodies still warm and cuddly from sleep.
My laundry sat untouched all afternoon. I didn't give my to-do list a single glance. Instead, I concentrated extra hard on loving my children, spent extra time noticing the clear blue of their eyes and the satiny warmth of their skin. Every time I got my wiggly son on my lap, I rubbed my cheek against his downy head and just... loved him, with everything I had.
We can do so little from several states away, and the small things we are doing seem paltry in comparison to the enormity of our family's grief.
But a sweet baby girl will be celebrating her first Christmas in heaven, praying for her parents and grandparents and all those who loved her, and in her memory I feel that the least we can do is let ourselves be changed by her death.
Today I am doing laundry again, but I am doing it with a different kind of heart, the kind that strives to see every interruption as a chance to show my precious children how much I love them. I will certainly drop the ball on a couple of things this busy week; if it's not a missing present or substitute diapers, it will be something else. I can see now, though, just how insignificant those things are.
We have each other for Christmas, and that is a blessing beyond measure.