I was watching his cousin make her delicious ciabatta. His mom and aunts were milling about the kitchen while the men were outside grilling the steaks. The kids were dancing in the living room.
When he came in.
Smelling of smoke and seasoning and cold. Huddled up in his blue Kentucky sweater. His nose red from the chill. His hand grasping a drink of I don’t know what. He walked up behind me and leaned in, speaking softly in my ear the way only a husband with a secret can do.
It was 8 words. Not whispered, but spoken slowly and deeply for my ears only. And in those 8 words the entire emotion of the season came crashing in on me unexpected.
“Your parents will be here in ten minutes,” he said.
Let’s pause briefly and set some facts straight.
My parents live in Kansas. I haven’t seen them since August when we spent three wonderful weeks with them. The Pickle talks about them every day, innocently stating, “I gon go see Gamma, Papa and Nana ‘amorrow.”
My parents are also totally the kind of people who would randomly show up at my in-law’s family reunion. They would tell one or two people, with the intention of surprising me, and they would just walk in the door. Like they did at 5am on my 20th birthday. Like they did on my first Mother’s Day.
Another fact, though, is that despite my husband’s abhorrence of “the pop in” he is a pretty huge fan of surprising me, too. And this is completely something he would do.
But the other fact that caught me off guard was that I had just talked to them a few days earlier when they informed me that they were not, could not, would not be able to travel anymore this year. They had done enough and would have to wait until next year.
In the split second after he spoke those words, all of these facts raced through my brain.
I turned quickly to face him and with a glimmer of hope in my eye, an unexpected leap in my heart, and a wavering voice of disbelief I replied, “No they’re not!”
To which he turned away casually, chuckled and said, “No… they’re not.” Chuckle. Chuckle.
But it was too late. The damage had been done. And in an instant my eyes betrayed emotions that I didn’t even know were there.
I completely broke down in tears.
When I realized what was happening I quickly covered my face. The women in the room immediately looked concerned and accusingly at my husband, “What did you do?!” And when I turned and hurried upstairs to my room with tears streaming down my face I heard his Aunt cry out, “Oh no!”
I wasn’t angry or hurt. I was simply overcome.
Here in the mountains surrounded by loving family, sparkling Christmas decorations, the laughter of children, it was Christmas. It was joy and family and love. But as much as I love this family, it was not my family. It was not my mom and dad. Or my brother and his family. It was not the A-frame house nestled in a valley covered in snow. It was not the wood burning stove from my childhood or the orange cat lazing in the sun at the front door. It was not crisp Kansas air and a cloudless night sky of a billion diamond stars.
It was not my home.
And for the first time all season I realized that I would not be with my family for Christmas this year. Again.
I had no idea I felt that way. I had spent half a dozen Christmases without them. I had cherished other moments and enjoyed precious visits throughout the year. But something about this moment- of hoping and then losing hope- it crushed me. And those unexpected emotions came rushing in. Inviting me to speak out a deep place in my heart that I had all but ignored.
This time of year, it’s hard to be away from family. Whether we realize it or not. Whether we want to believe it or not. It’s there. Waiting for a quiet moment. Waiting for a soft whisper. To remind you to feel. To remind your heart to beat. To remind you to live. And part of living, part of loving, means longing. Means losing. Means leaving.
I was given a gift in the most unexpected way. The gift of tears in a moment where my heart was deeply moved. Moved for the ones I love. The once I miss. The ones I am so thankful for.
No, they won’t surprise us this year. And I won’t be able to surprise them either.
But Christmas will be a little sweeter. A little warmer. A little more real…
because I am so blessed to have someone to miss.