Fonticulus Fides

Monday, December 29, 2003

Heartbreak & Holidays

Folks have been asking, as is customary, how our Christmas was. Well, it was a bittersweet mixture. On one hand, the joy of Christ's birth is -- or at least ought to be -- the blessing that outshines everything else the world has to offer. But this year, our private world was fraught with painful emotions.

My husband's great-uncle Jimmy died on the evening of the 23rd. His death was not entirely unexpected -- in fact, we were told that Christmas might be "on hold" if Uncle Jimmy took a turn for the worse, which would mean my husband's grandparents would certainly want to hurry to his bedside in Missouri. However, he left this life so quickly, there wasn't time to give his only surviving sister notice enough to drive down from Nebraska.

So, we gathered on Christmas Eve as planned, but Grandma was obviously distracted by her older brother's death. It's a strange thing, I have observed, when people suddenly become "the oldest" in their families. I imagine it must make one take stock in one's own life and, if they believe in Him, in their relationship with God.

As for the rest of the family, Uncle Jimmy's death was less of an issue, since he was a rather distant relative, both in geography and in regular contact. My husband's uncle John, I think, felt it more keenly than anybody other than Grandma, but John was close enough to Jimmy to have named his own son after him.

But that was not the darkest shadow over the family gathering. My husband's brother hosted the event, in the house he and his wife bought a month before she left him, which he's been renovating ever since. The renovation work is going well and the house is going to look fantastic when he's done. But everywhere was the mark of Heidi, making her absence and their situation more tangible. There were the three knitted stockings she'd hunted all over the city to find, slung carelessly over the knob to the front door instead of hanging properly off the fireplace mantle. The Christmas tree, laden with ornaments she'd chosen or made, or ornaments made by others for her or her and her husband. Many are tiny bicycles, commemorating the numerous bike rides they shared when they were dating and falling in love.

In the half-finished kitchen was the cooktop and other appliances Heidi chose, the hotpads she'd made, the dishes from their wedding registry. There were photos here and there -- many that she took herself (she's a great photographer) but none of her.

My brother-in-law maintained an even keel. Part of him, I know, was in deep pain. And the other part of him was glad to have his family around him, proud to open his home and serve as host despite the loss. Nobody sought to bring up the issue of their seperation and pending divorce, but when the matter was inadvertently broached, he didn't back away from it. He speaks of the issue realisticly and sticks a bit of wry humor in there when he sees folks grow uncomfortable.

But Madeline, their 3.5-year-old daughter -- that's where you feel the pain of Heidi's absense most. Like any other high-energy preschooler, Maddie directs her emotions into physical activity. More than once, she tried to physically tackle or otherwise control her older cousins (all boys -- Zooey and Chase are 4, Andrew is 6 and Branden is 8). And when that failed, she turned on Edyn, alternately snatching toys away from her, poking her with a broom, chasing her, knocking her over once and even spanning Edyn's neck with her hands in a choking action. Of course, every adult in the house had one eye on Maddie and all these altercations were quickly put to an end, then Maddie was gently redirected to an acceptable activity. But minutes later, she'd jump up and do the same sort of thing again.

It's not difficult to explain in a 3-yr-old. Where her life has become the chaotic transfer between dad and mom and grandparents multiple times a week, she wants to exhibit control over others, so she tried to do so with her cousins. And when that failed, the underlying feeling that she's being picked on or that all the "big people" in her life are messing things up and hurting her emotionally caused her to turn on her younger cousin.

She has to learn how to cope and develop the skills and emotional maturity to overcome the adversity she's subjected to now. But that will take years. She's only three after all.

The worst part, though, was when Madeline burned her finger (slightly) on the fireplace grill. I was talking to one of my husband's cousins when Maddie ran up to us, holding her finger with tears brimming out of her eyes. Jena asked what was wrong, and Maddie said she burned her finger and didn't know what to do. And you know, she didn't know what to do because when a 3-year-old gets an owie, she (or he) goes to Mommy. But Mommy wasn't there. Maddie wanted to cry, but not without the comfort of Mommy holding her and helping her cope. Maddie knew that she needed first aid, but didn't know where to get it without Mommy there. So she turned to the two females closest to her, and we helped her into the kitchen, where her dad took over.

There are kids all over the world who have lost their moms to accidents or illness and have to learn how to cope, how to adjust their needs to allow for Daddy to do what Mommy used to do.

But it's an awful thing when Mom just up and left. When Mom knows she's needed and wanted but has "other priorities now."

I find myself unable to reconcile the Heidi I knew for 7 years with the Heidi of today. I ache for my brother-in-law, I ache especially for Maddie. And I'm worried sick about Heidi herself. For as much pain and loss as she's caused her husband and child and the rest of the family, she stands to suffer so much more, with the way she is choosing to live. She needs to be rescued...but only the Garce of God could accomplish such a feat.



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