Dear Santa:

Please direct your attention to those in greater need….

Look, I know this is absurd, a grown woman writing a letter to Santa.

Absurd.

Ridiculous, even.

But ridiculous is kind of what I do.

And here’s the thing: I believe in you.

When you are in the picture at this time of year, people are more likely to be kind. Caring, giving. Generous, even. (Battle lines at big-box stores excepted, of course).

Magical things happen. They do.

It snows magic Christmas snow when the weather nerds insist none is in the forecast.

Packages and invitations turn up unexpectedly, from friends you didn’t know were thinking of you.

Customer service people actually provide service.

I confess I was going to write a tearjerker of a letter, asking you to send us a new man.

Because we could use some company.

My daughter is feeling our two-of-us-that-used-to-be-three-of-us, hard.

She misses her Dad, a lot.

So do I.

I miss the way he danced (very goofy.) I miss the way he used to peek around the door of her room when we were sitting together at bedtime.

I miss us sitting in companionable silence, each reading our own books, pausing to identify and then listen intently to, whatever selection was playing on our beloved classical music radio station.

So I was going to ask you, Santa, for a little help, finding a new man for us. A little help, here?

But I changed my mind because of a few intervening events that put things in perspective since I started writing this letter:

Sophie cat became “Sophie the Christmas Miracle Cat.”

She had suddenly lost the use of her back leg.

Vet said prognosis dire. Probably blood clot.

Might have to say good-bye.

Oh, shit, at Christmas?

But Sophie the Christmas Miracle Cat, being, shall we say, un-enamored of said vet (who is a really nice lady, but Sophie sees her and thinks, “shot! run!”) managed to drag herself upstairs, do a pull-up with her front claws (and this cat weighs at least 15 pounds) onto my bed, and make herself well.

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Meaning she somehow managed to dissolve the clot, regain use of her left hind leg, and after climbing up and being carried back down twice (for food, and, erm, other necessities) she got down herself the third time, limping a little, but by the next meal was walking along just fine, asking for her next meal, as usual.

Then, just as we were preparing for our annual ladies’ holiday excursion downtown, I happened to go into the basement utility room (OCD, just wanted to check and make sure the previous night’s fireplace ashes hadn’t done something weird and dangerous while encased in masonry behind an iron door in the ash box – you know, the usual, rational concern) I noticed the boiler was leaking. A lot. And not from a pressure release valve – from underneath.

Call heat guy, who luckily lives pretty close by.

Sorry, ma’am, you’re going to need a new boiler.

How much?

THAT much? Oh, my God!

Try to retain calm during ladies’ annual downtown excursion, while also seeking bids from two other heat guys.

Enjoy lovely excursion, including breathtaking, moving and lovely performance of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theater. Wow. Stunning.

But while walking along The Magnificent Mile, between the Disney store and American Girl Place,  among the expensively dressed, happy holiday crowd, we passed many, many homeless people.

Every three feet, there was another person, huddled in filthy blankets, head bowed, cardboard sign propped against their knees, or wheelchair, or walker, plastic cup standing, hoping, for something. Just a little something.

I gave the only dollar I had, because I don’t really carry cash anymore, to a person who was propped up with a walker, legs trembling, speech impaired, seemingly brain-injured and desperate.

And turned to continue our walk past the next homeless person, and the next, and the next.

Overwhelming need, smack in the middle of the swankiest part of town.

I have never been so grateful to come home to an unheated house in my life.

Yesterday, I washed my hair with water heated on the stove, and was warmed by the hair dryer, before we headed off to church.

My dear brother brought over two space heaters.

We attended a last-minute, lovely, holiday party at the home of a family who have been exceptionally kind to us, especially my angelic, autistic daughter, who loves them, as they have come to love her.

I watched her make conversation with other guests without my cueing or help, or presence, really, beaming, like the lovely young adult she is, heart full of joy.

Today I’ll  make our traditional Christmas Eve clam chowder and cornbread, to be consumed after church, and then, we’ll put on our warm jammies, make a fire in the fireplace and we’ll make s’mores.

Camping! Pioneer ladies!

I have no heat and no hot water, Santa, and I won’t until Wednesday, when the first heat guys who came, whose heart-stopping bid was actually substantially lower than the next guy’s, will install a new boiler.

And I couldn’t be happier.

Because today, we have a roof over our heads, food in the fridge, two space heaters and enough blankets, hats, sweaters and sweatshirts to get us through to Wednesday.

Three years ago, our first Christmas without Mike, I burned the cranberry sauce for the first time in my life. I’ve been making it since I was twelve. I think that happened because of sadness, distraction and depression.

I burned it again, just now, for only the second time in my life.

Because I was distracted by writing a blog post about gratitude.

I’d call that progress.

So Santa, don’t worry about us  Please direct your attention to those truly in need, and we’ll try to figure out something we can do in our own small way. (But maybe could you save a package of cranberries for us at the local market for when we do our shopping after lessons and carols? They were out by this day last year).

Thanks for listening.

God bless us, every one.

See you next year.

Until then, I remain,

Your grateful, silly, burned-the-cranberries-but-thankfully-not-the-house-because-I-was-distracted-by-gratitude,

Ridiculouswoman

Fly Away – It Will Be OK

Because of that preening bird, I know Mike thinks it’s OK…

My oldest brother warned me about this: there would come a day when I didn’t think about Mike at all.

And I’d feel guilty about it, but it would be OK.

In truth it has already happened a few times, and I did feel guilty.

But yesterday was the first time I had a really surprising, truly upsetting lapse of remembering Mike: I forgot that we had planned an observance of the second anniversary of his death.

I scheduled the installation of new carpet, in what had been his room, on that very day: tomorrow, the 24th.

How could I?

I was caught up in a project for our daughter.

Who last week suddenly declared she wanted to turn his room in to a “computer lounge.”

I had already taken his bed (yes, separate bedrooms, long story, you’ll have to read the book if I ever get it published) out of there so we could make it her “art room,” and I hauled her art desk and her electric keyboard up from the basement to put in there.

The room is on the other side of her bedroom wall.  They had communicated to each other through the thin drywall barrier, like kids after the adults have gone to bed – knocking on the wall, whispering and laughing together, buddies, pals.

But now she wanted to take the art and music stuff out of there, and get a laptop, a desk and a chair for her new “computer lounge.”

I think she’s trying to recreate the quiet “break room” from the day program she just quit. That’s ok. It’s what she needs now – a space like that, but at home.

So, back to the basement go the keyboard and the art desk and back into her bedroom goes the guitar.

The carpet guy called as we were driving to the hardware store (phone on Bluetooth, both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, no worries) to get another paintbrush and a few more of those little angle-tip spongy things that get the paint into the edges of places but not beyond.  He said they could come pretty much anytime.

“Do  you want to do it sooner rather than later?”

“Well, we’ll be finished painting today, so sooner, I guess…”

“We have Friday or Monday.”

“How about Friday?”

It wasn’t until I had parked the car at the hardware store that it hit me – we were supposed to picnic at the gravesite Friday. We were going to blow some bubbles and maybe let go of a balloon to symbolize setting his spirit free – letting him know that we wouldn’t try to hold him here anymore, that we’d be OK with our memories and his whispers from beyond – the songs, the hummingbird, the butterflies.

Our daughter saw the panic in my face.

“They’ll call in the morning to tell us when they’re coming, and after they’re done, we can go see Dad, like we planned.”

She was disturbed: somewhere in her over-connected, autistic brain, she must have realized that she also had forgotten, for a moment, the significance of tomorrow.

I cried when I was prepping the room for paint. The project felt like a kind of erasure, like we were obliterating something about Mike. Tears were streaming down my face as I brought the supplies into the empty room.  As I set everything down, I looked up for a moment – and was startled by a really bright red, fat, young male cardinal, fluffy and preening, in the branch of the big maple tree, very close to the window.

Mike loved birds. More of them came to the birdbath in the back yard when he was here. It wasn’t just hummingbirds, he was interested in all types of birds.

So it didn’t seem out of place to ask, “Mike, is that you, hon?”

I swear to you, that bird looked right at me. And then it opened its mouth wide, the way baby robins do while chasing their exhausted parents around the yard – “feed me! Feed me! Feed me!”

That was a running joke between Mike and me, when it seemed our daughter could never stop needing more food – cook for me, more for me, feed me, feed me, feed me!

“Oh, hon, I’m sure that’s you! I hope you’re OK with this, with us changing the room!”

That bird looked right at me again, sideways, with a look that said, “of course it’s OK – about time!” And then it flew away, up over the top of the house.

It is supposed to rain tomorrow. That forecast was why we scrambled to get the paint done, so we could keep the windows open without the damp slowing the drying. But we also wanted to get it done so we could visit his grave on the anniversary day.

But the carpet is coming instead.

So we went there today. We blew a few bubbles.  Most of them sank to the earth quickly, but one drifted high above the trees, into the clear blue of today’s rain-free sky.

We came home and ordered a desk, and began looking online for a laptop and a chair.

Claiming that room as her own is, I think, a sign that our daughter is beginning to understand she can live, maybe even happily, without her Dad physically here. She can keep him in her heart and memory, even as she comes to accept that he will never again be right there on the other side of her bedroom wall.

And it’s OK.

And because of that fat, preening, joking cardinal, I know Mike thinks it’s OK too.

Wishing you relief from sadness, and joy in little moments of progress, I remain,

Your loyal, grateful, starting-to-heal, trying-to-hope,

Ridiculouswoman