Lev relished the persona of being gruff and grumpy, and he welcomed the grandchildren’s nickname for him—Grumps. Come Christmas, he played the role to the hilt when they were around, going around muttering, “Bah! Humbug!” like Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. As choreographer of our Christmas rituals and traditions, I encouraged him, setting the stage with Dickens-themed Holiday decorations.
We remember the story:
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that…. Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner…. Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley….
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!
That hardly described my husband! Behind that gruff façade, Lev was the most generous person I ever knew, and he absolutely loved Christmas. And then—like Marley—he was gone.
How would we celebrate Christmas without him? How could we celebrate without him?
Having always loved everything about Christmas—the tree, carols, presents, cards, cookies, candies, and lavish meals—I did not want to lose that too. How could I move from loss and grief to the joy of Christmas?
Even the remote possibility that I might be alone on a day when everyone in the world seemed to be with family caused major anxiety that set in weeks, even months in advance and was alleviated only when Peggy’s and Lev’s plans were finalized and I knew where I would be. I had never spent Christmas Eve or Christmas night by myself. When I was half a couple, Lev and I could leave Peggy and Scott’s ranch at noon on Christmas Day and drive home to spend a quiet evening in front of the fire or the tree…or we could take an afternoon flight to Colorado Springs and stay at the Broadmoor, enjoying the mountains and snow and lavish decorations. As a new widow, even the thought of coming home alone to an empty house after spending the day with my family terrified me.
That first Christmas I avoided Santa Clauses and bright red; but I put up the tree and decorated the house with angels, evergreens, and white poinsettias. To have ignored the Season would have made it ever so much more depressing, my home that much emptier. I surprised myself as I hung the ornaments on the tree. Lev and I collected ornaments all the years of our marriage, picking up small items—not necessarily designed as ornaments—on trips around the world, and we frequently gave each other special ornaments on our December 16 wedding anniversary. Now, every ornament brought back a happy memory: the little red lantern that Lev had received as a child, the last unbroken hand-blown glass ornament from a set we purchased on our honeymoon at Sanborn’s Drugstore in Mexico City in 1962, the hand-carved wooden bird we bought on the steps of the Papal Palace in Avignon in 1969, the glittery sandcast plaster molds of Lev IV’s and Peggy’s feet from long-ago kindergarten projects.
Just as Lev and I had done, our children always celebrated Christmas at their homes, grandparents invited; and we all gathered to open gifts under my tree and enjoy my traditional Christmas dinner at some point during the Holidays…. On Christmas morning, anticipating the gathering of the entire family in three days, I emailed everyone a Christmas Decree:
Whereas, Grumps personified the spirit of Christmas with his generosity, merriment, and love of all things Christmas; and
Whereas, he exhibited that spirit in his collecting and giving of noisy, gaudy Christmas decorations and toys; and
Whereas, he further exhibited that spirit in the wearing and giving of Christmas ties, as well as the wearing of Christmas shirts from plaid to print, Christmas socks, and even Christmas pants of red plaid, patchwork, holly sprigs, and candy canes; and always a bright red blazer;
Be it hereby resolved by his family, heirs, and friends to honor his memory by perpetuating his joyous celebration of Christmas; and
Be it further resolved to banish all that is pretentious, sophisticated, stuffy, and somber from Christmas gatherings and celebrations; and
Be it further resolved that while an occasional, grumpy “Bah! Humbug!” is permissible, the spirit of generosity, hospitality, and joy shall erase any tendency toward stinginess, misanthropy, or sadness; and
Finally, be it hereby decreed by the reigning matriarch and dowager that all black, brown, gray, purple, lavender, and other drab, somber colors shall be banned from all Christmas celebrations; and that celebrants shall be properly attired in all that is merry and bright.
This decree is effective immediately.
Christmas 2009 was our first step in the journey of banishing the ghosts of Christmas Past like those that haunted Scrooge. Alone and with my family, I slowly let go of what was to celebrate what is, not to regret what I could no longer have but to give thanks for the many good memories of the past, the blessings of the present and the hope for the future. I have reclaimed joy.
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Consider a gift of Reclaiming Joy to someone you know who is struggling to claim joy this Christmas. Perhaps it’s the loss of a loved one—an empty chair at the table—but it may be a different loss or disappointment. Reclaiming Joy offers practical suggestions for coping with loss at Christmas, while inspiring readers with spiritual insights gleaned from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Order your copy here.
Today’s blog includes excerpts—including quotations from pages 13, 71, 109, 110–11—from Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows, published by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press.
Photos: Byar’s Carolers: Marley’s Ghost, Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past; Christmas Day, Goliad, Texas, 2004; Lev’s ornaments on my tree.
The Kindle edition of Reclaiming Joy is now available from Amazon.
January 10, 2019 – “Resolved: To Reclaim Joy in 2019,” Deja Vu Crew, 9:45 a.m., followed by book signing, Recreation Center, First Baptist Church, Corpus Christi, Texas.
January 13, 2019 – “Resolved to Claim Joy”; interviews during 8:30 and 11 a.m. worship services, guest speaker at 12:30 p.m. luncheon, Great Hall, Wilshire Baptist Church, 4316 Abrams Road, Dallas, Texas.
January 24, 2019 -“Resolved: To Reclaim Joy in 2019,” Women of the Church, All Saints Episcopal Church, Fort Worth, Texas. Contact Ella if you would like to attend and want more details.
January 29, 2019 – Featured speaker, Frost Bank women’s event, 4 p.m., Corpus Christi Art Center. By invitation.
In the Media:
November 16, 2018 – Ella discusses coping with the myriad business issues that confronted her immediately after her husband died with Fred Tromberg on “Life, the Law and Legal Matters.” Listen to full interview.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol, pp. B–B2. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1843.