I wasn't sure what to expect from Christmas this year. Last year it was a struggle from that first in-store carol mid November to the moment when the last red and green vestiges of the season were finally packed away in boxes in the basement.
There wasn't much I enjoyed, except for a few gentle moments with family and the kindness of our friends who remembered Thomas in special ways - and made sure we knew.
So I had no idea what would happen this year, except that I figured it would be easier. It had to be easier. And since the lead up to the big day was much merrier than last year, I assumed I would be able to find my Christmas spirit when the sun rose on the 25th.
I think not looking for it made all the difference. I tried hard last year to make merry. I went to parties. I shopped. I wrote cards. I watched Christmas movies. I listened to Christmas carols - and I did it all under duress. I made myself do it because I thought I should, and because I thought if I forced myself to do all those normally joyful things, I'd somehow magically find the peace that had been eluding me all season long.
I didn't find it. I just wore myself out instead - and felt a million times worse because of it. I was happiest when it was all over and I could stop pretending. That's when peace finally came.
But this year was different. I did what I wanted to do, and found that it included all the things that I had to force myself to do last year. Imagine that.
Time is a great healer. Not necessarily because it's particularly kind, but because the more of it there is between you and your loss, the more proven coping mechanisms you have on hand to rely upon when the going gets tough. And the knowledge that the first Christmas didn't kill me (by some miracle) meant I could probably make it through the second too.
And I did.
But the thing is, I more than "made it through" - I actually enjoyed it.
I missed Thomas. I missed him with the same passion I always do. But I felt him with me, so close it was like I could reach out and touch him. He was with me. And I was happy. Happy.
I first felt it when we were driving to my in-laws on Christmas Eve. We had on my favourite Christmas CD (St. Michael's Choir School's Joy To The World) and we were listening to O Holy Night sung by a beautiful voice that has long since been stilled. A friend of my Dad's - someone I knew as a child. Someone who knew me before and never knew me in agony.
As I listened to his voice soar, I started thinking about all the people I've lost who were so special to me and so much a part of the happy Christmases of my past. And I felt them. I swear I did. And Thomas with them, right there in the car on the busy 401 at 4:00pm in the afternoon on Christmas Eve.
Normally those kinds of thoughts would have me sobbing, but instead I felt that one perfect moment of peace that managed to completely escape me last year. I felt it wash over me and course through me. I felt it give me strength - and I felt myself smile from the inside out.
They were there. They will always be there. In my heart, in my memory and, it would seem, in the back of the car when I'm playing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve.
I don't care if it sounds crazy. It was as real to me as this computer and my hands on its keys.
And that's what I'll remember most about this Christmas. That brief, beautiful moment in the car that I spent with the people I never dreamed I'd be sharing Christmas with. Not in a million years. And the feeling of my Thomas near me through it all.
My wish is for everyone to feel that kind of peace and joy, even for just one moment.