Pretending to be Happy on Christmas--It's a Good Thing

So, as a countdown to the big dance, I’m going to blog a Christmas memory each day of Christmas week. Today’s will be sad. Tomorrow’s will be funny.

Do I open the presents?

I remember sitting on the couch of my parents’ house, looking at the Christmas tree, and wondering what kind of a person opens Christmas presents five days after her brother’s funeral. One part of me was thinking “Open a present. You need it.” Another part was mocking that first part. It kept telling the present-opener, “You’re sick.”

And I was sick. I felt terrible. So I decided that I might as well feel terrible with presents.

We opened up our stuff—my mom, dad, Justin, and I—stuff from another world. The Jennifer who’d excitedly picked out gifts for her family had lived so long ago. I hardly remembered her. I didn’t recognize the presents my mom and dad opened half-heartedly.

Mostly, the present-opening was a charade, but we all tried to act happy. I remember being impressed that we made it through the gifts without a single tear. Until we ran out of presents to open.

There, sitting anxiously under the tree, wrapped in candy canes and snowmen, were piles of shiny boxes. All of them waiting for Bobby.

I held one of them in my lap for a good ten minutes wondering what I should do with it. I did remember buying this present. It was perfect. Red and white And 1 basketball shorts—exactly the right brand, size, color (Bobby was notoriously picky) and I’d gotten them on ridiculous discount. I knew he’d never expect them, didn’t think I could afford them. But there they were, waiting for Bobby in their box, waiting for him to put them on and try to dunk a basketball to impress some cute girl.

Knowing that Bobby would never open that box was more than I could bear. For some reason, I just needed that box to be opened. I needed those stupid basketball shorts to be worn.

I opened them myself. And Justin wore them to bed. And right now, seven years later, they’re sitting in my closet, tired from use.

I cried like a baby that night, holding those shorts. But I made a good decision. We all made the right decision—opening presents, pretending to be happy.

I’m glad that life went on after Bobby died.

I NEVER would have thought it in those first few weeks and months. I wanted life to stop. I wanted businesses to shut down and people to stop shopping and eating and otherwise acting like things were normal. But now I appreciate the normal.

I like knowing that Christmas can be good. It wasn’t that year. It was soggy and dark and heavy and all-over terrible. But this year it was great. Mom made a huge, delicious dinner—with sweet potato casserole!! Dad set up London’s zoo (she tells me every day that she got a zoo for Christmas and that it’s at Papa and Lolo’s house). Eve crawled and giggled and generally entertained. We all laughed and smiled and completely enjoyed each other. It felt sooo good.

I know, though, that it never would have been good again if, on that sad, lonely night, we hadn’t forced ourselves to try and make it so.

I’m glad we pretended to be happy. Because now we are.