We did it....made it through Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Andrew's 10th birthday (12/24 thru 12/26) relatively unscathed and whole. The most tears shed were during our church's Christmas Eve services...those beautiful carols have moved me every year since 2001, when I was 9 months pregnant with Andrew. But this year, as I listened to our chancel choir singing acapella in the narthex before processing down the aisle, it was different. I imagined Mark getting to hear that kind of beautiful music any time he wants from his heavenly vantage point. And knowing how much he loved to sing, I had a bit of trouble getting through a couple of his favorites with the congregation.
Precious friends offered hugs and encouraging words after the services, and the boys & I headed home. It was late, around 10:30 whenever we finally made it into our pajamas. Both boys requested that we read "T'was the Night Before Christmas," the stand-by favorite, a Howell tradition since Mark was a little boy. Mark's dad read it to them, and Mark had continued the tradition with Andrew and Ben. I wondered if it would be something they would want to keep doing, even in his absence. It was. As we all nestled into his big ole recliner (he requested the bigger one, just so he & "his boys" could all fit into it), Ben suggested we take turns reading a page each. So, with a boy under each arm, we snuggled up and read the old familiar verses. A Howell family tradition with a new twist. I think we've found another love of Mark's to continue in our smaller family.
Christmas morning was good, with the boys getting way too much stuff. I will do better next year, Lord, I promise. Without Mark around, I wanted them to have enough "things" to keep them occupied. I succeeded. They proclaimed that they were in Christmas "heaven" and we had alot of fun, in spite of the glaring absence of the one who loved Christmas more than any of us.
We spent lunch with our Texas family, the Collins'. Too much food, many smiles, few tears, as we gathered for the blessing before the meal. The boys and I led with our traditional family blessing, one Mark learned as an elementary school kid in central Kansas...."For food and drink and happy days, accept our gratitude and praise. In serving others, Lord, may we, express our thankfulness to thee."
Finished off the day by going to the movies. We had good intentions of seeing "War Horse" with a friend. Unfortunately, many others had the same idea. As I was 3 people away from buying tickets, the showing sold out. Disappointed boys begged to see another movie, since we were already there. "We Bought a Zoo," although appropriate, looked too sad for us (widower father with kids), so I took a leap of faith and purchased tickets for "Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol". I wanted to see it, anyway; made the boys promise if there were inappropriate portions, that I could cover their eyes.
It was fantastic, an exciting action-packed adventure from start to finish. Other than a couple of inappropriate words (didn't know boys could laugh so loud and hard at those!), it was the perfect choice to end our Christmas day.
Andrew's 10 birthday, our other "first," was the 26th. I lovingly wrapped the Remington 20 gauge shotgun in the most festive "Happy Birthday" wrapping paper I could find. A Madden NFL 12 xbox game, 4 boxes of target-load shells, targets, protective eyewear, and a camo gun case completed the presents. He carefully opened the box, the shape and heft of the packaging, of course, gave the contents away well before tearing off the paper. His eyes grew larger, and I swear there was a tear or two there. He knew his daddy had given me specifics on what to buy for him, while so sick in the hospital. The gift was truly from him, I just bought it. We discussed safety again, as I showed him the safety location. His reply? "Mom, you know there are two safetys on this gun.." and I looked quizzically at him...."the other safety is me." Hunter Ed course, you did your job.
After a trip to Buffalo Wild Wings and too much chocolate cake, we went to bed. He received several calls from Nanas, aunts and uncles. He told all of them that he'd had a "wonderful" day.
And we did have a wonderful day. I'm at a loss to explain it. After such a heart-wrenching, emotionally-draining Thanksgiving, I was sure dreading Christmas. So much so that I ran away for a week before, all the way to Disney World. But after our Christmas Eve service at church, I had a calm come over me. A peace, actually, that I have not had since before Mark's death. A peace that assures me that we are okay. A calm that has allowed me to be happy and content.
I'm almost afraid to write this, because I'm worried that this is just a phase of some sort, that tomorrow I will wake up and be thrown back into the hopelessness and turmoil that has dominated my life since the end of July....but I think I have turned a corner. Not a big corner, mind you, but a corner nonetheless. I am more sure of myself, I have a peace about our circumstances, I feel ready to move forward. I am looking with anticipation to our future, my future. I've been holding onto that verse from Jeremiah 29:11 since July 30th, and I finally feel it unfolding.
Mark wants me to live. He wants us to embrace life, move forward, and make the most of each day God gives us. "Living like Daddy" has a whole new meaning for me. My boys have faith in me to accomplish anything, and God is giving me the strength and grace to do what needs to be done as the head of this household.
My outlook? Good. I miss that man terribly, always will. But I will honor him by living. And his boys are just the icing on my cake. Thank you, God, for helping me see the silver lining in these dark clouds that have been hovering over us.