by Amy Ferguson
She’s been gone for 12 Christmases.
12 whole Christmases without my big sister. 12 trees of varying shapes and sizes. 12 dinners with rotating casts of attendees. 12 Christmas Eve trips to CVS for last minute stocking stuffers. 12 partial or entire viewings of A Christmas Story. 12 Christmas morning coffee cakes with the perfect streusel topping. 12 is a lot of Christmases.
I can still remember the first one after she died because it was the hardest. We didn’t know how to have Christmas without her. A holiday based on nostalgia and rituals doesn’t make sense when someone dies.
I am walking down the hallway of our old Victorian house, my socked feet slipping on the shiny hardwood floors. There are half unpacked boxes of Christmas stuff in every direction; Sparkly ornaments wrapped in old bits of newspaper yellowed with age. Complicated tangles of twinkle lights. A much beloved and slightly racist stuffed Chihuahua in a sombrero that sings “Feliz Navidad” when prompted. The smell of dust and pine and candle wax is thick in the air.
“Mom?” I call.
I’ve grown bored of hanging ornaments and think it is high time we discuss ordering a pizza for dinner. Mom made a point of bringing down all the Christmas boxes from the attic. Probably her way of saying we should still have Christmas.
She died in January. I graduated in May. And was back home living with my mom and younger sister by July. The loss was somehow easier to bear if we were together. We served as each other’s reminders of what we still had.
As I reach the end of the hallway I find her. She’s sitting at the foot of the fireplace where we hang the stockings and put out the cookies for Santa. Yet another cardboard box marked “x-mas” in scribbled Sharpie sits next to her. She looks up at me, her eyes filled with tears.
“What am I supposed to do with this?”
She holds up one of the stockings my grandmother skillfully knitted for each of us. Because of the way it is folded in her hands I can’t see the name but I know whose stocking it is.
She delicately lays the stocking in her lap and stares up at me for answers, as if I have any. I don’t know what we were supposed to do. Michelle has only been gone for eleven months. The gaping hole in our family is still an open wound, the kind that heals a little bit only to rip and start gushing blood all over again.
In that moment I think about all of the traditions that won’t happen this year. Or ever again. Traditions that can’t go on without her. She’ll never sneakily unwrap and rewrap her presents because the waiting is killing her and she just has to know what’s inside. She’ll never sit down next to me on the couch wedging her freezing cold feet under my thigh for warmth. She’ll never hilariously rearrange mom’s wooden “SANTA” letters to instead read “SATAN.” She’ll never crave another eggnog latte. I’ll never see her face around the tree. I’ll never stress over what to get her. She’s gone and Christmas will never be the same again.
I reach down and grab the stocking from my mom. I find the kitted white loop with my finger and count to the third crookedy rusted nail. I stick it through the loop and let go. Her stocking unfurls and we both stare at it, silent and crying.
That was one tradition we weren’t ready to let go of.