The Christmas Tree

Going on the fourth Christmas, I have come to accept the Christmas tree as Matt’s presence at Christmas time. Before we had kids, Matt wanted nothing to do with having a Christmas tree. We celebrated Christmas of course, but he kind of bah humbugged a lot of it on the principle that Christmas is over commercialized. As soon as Summer was born, he went out and bought a huge artificial Christmas tree. It is 12 feet tall and he got a very good deal on Craig’s list. It is a high quality tree but it is not pre lit and you have to put it together, branch by branch. He even researched the best way to string lights which is not round and round but in and out along each branch. To properly light the tree in this way takes about 1000 lights and 2 full days of work. Needless to say, once Matt died, this was not something I was able to do on my own. But with three kids, I had to have a Christmas tree even if I didn’t feel like it. The prospect of putting the tree up in good time was quite a burden. The first year, Josh and the McNamaras helped put it up. The second year I went shopping for a pre lit tree. I looked at Target, at Lowe’s, at Home Depot and online. What I found was that none of the trees measured up to the fullness of our tree and the ones that came close were very expensive. My solution was to put up 2 instead of 3 sections of our tree which meant a 9 foot tree instead of 12 feet. There are about 9 or 10 rows of branches this way and since the top section has shorter branches, it goes up pretty fast. I also don’t try to get the tree up all at once. We work on it about an hour a day over the course of several days and now that the kids are older, they can help by fluffing out the branches before I put them up.

This year, I pulled out the tree and decided it would represent Matt himself and that putting up the tree is a meditation of sorts and a way to measure my readiness. It’s also a sort of Advent calendar as seeing the tree go from a small tuft at the end of a six foot pole to a five foot tree raised up above the ground to the full 9 foot portion corresponds to the days closing in on Christmas. The kids love holiday decorating so much and that definitely helps a lot. I try to get most of the gift shopping done in November and then slow down in December with only Christmas extracurriculars and a goal to de-rush amidst the Christmas rush. This year actually feels a bit measured and steady.


There was one time that we got an infestation of flies in the house. I remember that Matt took to swatting at them with a magazine in his spare moments. He did it with such gusto and was proud to have a very high accuracy rate. It’s kind of gross, but I guess it just goes to show that problems themselves are not innate causes of what sets us off and what doesn’t. How we weather something in our path is really more dependent on our mood and how we relate it back to things we have gone through before. Remembering Matt, I can think of so many times that something bothered me and he brushed them aside with positivity. Sometimes, I was still bothered and sometimes his light attitude rubbed off on me as with the flies. Likewise, there were plenty of times that I remember him being stressed out and something would set him off that I didn’t give any emotional weight. His mood often colored his memories as well. As it turned out, getting rid of a fly infestation with Matt swatting 20 a day didn’t take that long.



I was talking to a friend who was concerned that his daughter has not sufficiently grieved the loss of her mother. After four years, I wondered about my own kids and I asked him, “What would it look like for her to grieve now?”

Neither of us really had an answer. The obvious answer is being sad and angry and nostalgic about direct memories of the person you are grieving. But I know that’s just a part of it and with kids who are growing and changing and involved with the now so much, there are fewer of those outright connections.

The answer I’ve come to is the simple one: it’s all grieving. It sounds extreme, and I admit I came to this because really I can’t always know what is and isn’t grief in my children. Also, it all feels like grief to me. So I add a little perspective and acknowledge that there is a lot of grief in growing up. In our household grief for the loss of Matt is naturally woven into the experience. I’ve come to see that grief itself is the mechanism we humans have to work on ourselves.

Curly Hair

I was resting, half asleep, half dreaming. I started thinking of the first time that I kissed Matt. I don’t remember very much more about it than the circumstances. I had been hanging out with Matt a lot and it was pretty clear that he was interested in being more than friends (he did try to kiss me first.) I thought about it and decided I would date him. To let him know, one evening when we were hanging out in his dorm room, I leaned in and kissed him. I remember his dorm room and I remember his curly hair. It’s such a vague, fleeting memory, like a fairy, except for the curly hair.

So why was I thinking about this as I sat in the piano studio waiting while the kids had their lesson? I have been grieving some things this summer and I started wondering what it must have felt like for Matt to have me kiss him. He was pursuing me, and at that moment he caught me. I wonder what it was like for him to be in love and how it affected what he did and felt when I wasn’t there.

Pasta and Penmanship

I was making spaghetti and forgot to set the timer for the pasta. Spaghetti is the one dinner I make out of a jar, because that is how Matt always made it. I remember he used to make spaghetti in his dorm room in the microwave with just pasta and a jar of sauce so I learned from him. He always cooked when we had spaghetti which was about once every two weeks. I remember him draining the fat into the sink with the pasta lid over the heavy skillet. But the memory that forgetting the timer brought to me was Matt testing to see if the pasta was done, another trick I learned from. I can see him fishing out a strand of pasta and pinching it into two to see if it was cooked through or if their was a raw center. Then he would eat the piece of pasta.

After we ate the spaghetti tonight, Cole was writing a list of words at the dinner table. I realized that he has the same mannerism in his penmanship as Matt did. Matt’s handwriting was not super legible and he always wrote in print. With some letters, like ‘e’, he had a flourish of motion at the end. It wasn’t anything you could see in the written letter, just a kind of swipe of his hand as he finished as one who is racing to the finish line requires a space to slow down even after he’s crossed it. Cole does just the same thing although his handwriting looks different and he begins the letter from the middle as we’re taught rather than from the bottom as Matt did.

Movies 2

Contemplating having the Netflix envelope in my hand again brings up so many things. We used to watch a movie almost every weekend, sometimes two. Matt loved movies. He handled the Netflix queue so it was always a bit of a surprise to find out what we’d be watching. He loved his theater room so much. He loved curling up next to me on the couch to settle in and watch a movie. I often get serious chills of excitement before watching a movie and I had to explain to him early on that I wasn’t cold; it was just nerves. There were movies we loved. There were movies I felt like I had better spent the time doing something else. In the past three years, I don’t think I’ve watched more than about 15 non-animated movies. I don’t have anyone to watch movies with and it is such a big deal to watch a movie. It is almost as big a deal as sleeping in the bed by myself.

So here I am anticipating the Netflix envelope. I took Summer to see Maleficent. She’s getting to be that age where I can do that which means I have someone to watch movies with sometimes. We went to Disney World. I feel like I am getting back into something that I have removed myself from over the past three years.

I can see Matt’s face and the sense of his body, with the Netflix choices in his hand– we had the 3 discs out at once plan– asking me what I wanted to watch. Then me responding with the same question. Often, he would choose one and I would choose the other, but he let me pick since he made the queue. Then he would give me a hard time for making him choose and then contrarily choosing a different one. But it didn’t really matter because there were only 2 or 3 choices and we were going to watch them all eventually. The only movie we got that I wanted that Matt refused to watch was the second Twilight movie. (He refused because he had seen the first Twilight movie.) There are so many movie watching stories with Matt, I know I will be writing about it again.


Last night I went to rent a streaming movie from iTunes that I had been thinking about renting for a while and realized I could not rent it. It was frustrating because I know the movie was available earlier this year for rental. I came across this same issue a few months ago when I rented a movie and watched part of it. When I tried to watch the rest of it the next day, it was no longer available on iTunes (although I did finish it because it was within my 24 hour period.) At the time, I thought it was a fluke. But after sitting down and trying to figure out what movies I could rent through streaming I discovered that that the number of movies made in the past few years that I could rent and stream seems almost non existent.

I got online and looked at a bunch of streaming services, and discovered the same thing. Sure, I can buy a digital movie, save it somewhere in the cloud and stream it to watch any time I want. But I’m not a movie buyer except for popular kids movies. So now I have ended up back at Netflix with an account to send me blue ray discs. It’s a little surreal as this is how I used to do it with Matt. I cancelled my account almost 3 years ago now. I don’t watch TV and I’m not adding the Netflix instant service because the selection is worse than Amazon. I’m still debating what to do, but for now I’m going to see how it feels with blue ray discs. It’s hard to believe I am going backwards with technology, and in my situation it’s very painful. At the same time, 3 years seems the appropriate cycle to revisit my entertainment system. I might just buy another Apple TV.