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*Scroll down for Part 1 of 3.

It’s a weird place in which I find myself these days. I’m relieved, but worried, but not too worried about our financial well-being. I’m missing my mother (always), but I find myself enjoying Christmas for the first time in three years. I actually went Christmas shopping. Yep, the Grinch came out of her cave and walked into an actual store & purchased actual Christmas gifts. Without snarling or cursing even one time.  The Christmas shit everywhere isn’t making me angry & bitter this year…. Bobby and I put up a tree, and I’ve decorated our mantel & dining room table, and am typing right this minute by the light of our lovely Christmas tree.

Why the change, you (& Bobby) ask? When Sue was home for Thanksgiving, she said something that pierced my little Grinchy heart — that one of the things she hates most about Christmas is going to her friends’ houses, where there are lots of gifts under the tree and she’s reminded of how much our family has lost/is losing. As obvious as it may seem, I suddenly realized that Sue is still a child in lots of ways. While I genuinely don’t miss the Christmas gifts, she DOES. Light-bulb moment. So this year, Sue’s gonna have gifts under the tree. Not expensive gifts, or big, earth-shattering gifts, but she’s going to have presents to open on Christmas morning. Cancer has taken enough of her childhood — it’s not going to continue to make trips to her “normal” friends’ houses more painful than they have to be.

Generally speaking, the holidays make me feel even less normal than usual. The commercials, the cheeriness, the happy family talk… there’s an implied pressure to feel & act a certain way. It’s easy to see why people become (more) depressed during the holiday season. Which is why I openly declared my Grinchiness during Christmas 2007 (much to the dismay of my then-coworkers). Sometimes it just takes too much effort to pretend.

I was in a very dark place this time two years ago (click here for post). A very, very dark place. If nothing else, this blog has helped document the fact that I am indeed improving.

And although I’m noticeably less bitter this year, it’s still hard. I don’t think Christmas will ever not be hard. Yesterday, I subbed with a lady who’s about Mama’s age. She was chattering about her children, her new grandbaby that’s on the way, shopping for their gifts, going to the Christmas parade, how much she’s looking forward to having them all at her house on Christmas Eve. It’s hard, ya’ll. It’s hard to listen with a neutral, interested expression on my face, and act like her words aren’t causing me pain. Listening to her talk is a glimpse into what would have been, and I find myself shying away from letting my brain go down that path. There’s no point in even thinking about how it would have been. There’s no point. So I smile & nod & try not to let her words go beyond my ears into my brain.

I can say that from where I am this very minute, Christmas Present resembles what the “new normal” will be more closely than 2006, 07, or 08 did. Finding a new normal isn’t something that happens in one year or even two years… I remember people talking about “the new normal” like it’s a destination to be reached, which is completely misleading. It’s year three, and I’m just now beginning to see a glimpse of Christmas Future.