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UnHappy Christmas

By on December 25, 2017

A few years ago, when things were tighter than I wanted them to be, we started a tradition of having a $25/per person budget to show the kids that it doesn’t matter what’s under the tree but the memories you make around it. It forced us all to be a little more creative and put some serious thought into the gifts we bought because, let’s be honest, $25 does not go far. The kids were young enough to embrace it and found joy in wandering around West Edmonton Mall, looking for bargains and unique ways to spend their money.

In my house, Christmas Eve is one of those days where we laugh a little easier, eat a little more than we should and open up the gifts that we have bought each other while our dog snores in the corner and our cat wrestles with the wrapping paper. We play games, watch The Polar Express and I capture every moment on my phone for the kids to enjoy later on in life when they’ll actually appreciate the fact that I took all the videos and pictures I could.

Christmas Eve has always been our Christmas Day because I refused to have my kids rush through opening their presents only to have to get ready and leave it all behind for the obligatory trip to the grandparents.

Yesterday was kind of different. Oz is now a responsible 15 year old who has worked for the past year and a half at the deli in Superstore. His shift happened to fall on Christmas Eve so instead of getting up in the morning and opening gifts, he got ready for work, donning a sweet Elf hat for his shift. His joy was contagious and made me happy that he hadn’t lost his excitement for the holidays despite being a teenager.

When Oz got home, he kissed me on the cheek, wishing me a Merry Christmas, hugged his sister and told her he loved her. I looked at him suspiciously and asked why he was in such a good mood.

“Everything was perfect today,” he declared, kissing my cheek again and squeezing me. I smiled, secretly loving the pure innocence and waves of happiness coming off of him.

We had dinner while opening up presents, played Mario Kart and argued over which Christmas movie we would watch because our annual viewing of The Polar Express had already happened in 3D at a Holiday Film Classic at Cineplex earlier this month. We finally settled on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer but before pressing play, we all scattered to do chores and get snacks.

“Oz, go feed Happy and then bring him in,” I said.

“You bet,” he replied, walking down to the entrance. I looked around at the mess in the kitchen then decided to leave it until after the movie. Oz came back into the kitchen and I looked at him, knowing exactly what he was going to say in that way a mom’s intuition kicks into high gear when something is wrong.

“Uh, Happy is dead,” he quietly whispered.

“What?!”

“Yeah. He’s dead. So…”

I froze. The look on his face was complete despair, shock and heartbreak.

We went to the back door where Happy was curled up on his blanket, not moving, not breathing and still warm. Happy came into our lives about three months after our other Boxer passed away. Oz was 6 and Lola was 3. It was like he was waiting for us to find him because the breeder said three other buyers wanted him but never followed through. When I saw him on Kijiji, I knew we had to have him. He was a white Boxer which meant he would have all sorts of health issues and most owners don’t want them  because they’re like the black sheep of the breed. We didn’t care. We fell in love with him immediately and  Lola declared him to be Happiness Marshmallow; Happy for short because that’s what he brought into our lives.

Except last night, watching Oz’s heart shatter into a million pieces on Christmas Eve, was the most painful thing I’ve had to witness as a mom. Grief isn’t something you can heal for someone else; it’s their heartache to go through no matter how much you want to carry it for them.

The mood around here went from light to dark in an instant. Suddenly, the joy we had all shared was suffocated by the weight of losing a beloved pet; a stinky, dopey, clumsy dog who had the most gentle soul of any animal I’d ever known.  The thing is, just two days before, Lola’s pet hamster died. And this past spring, her cat Linus ran away to Mexico to join a gang and become Linus del Gato, Cat Burgler (or he was eaten by coyotes, no idea, he just disappeared. We’re sticking to the Mexico story).

I’m not sure what today will bring or how Oz is going to deal with this but I do know that this will be the only thing he remembers about this Christmas. Not even Santa can make this a happy one for my boy.

~ tamara

Christmas 2016