The Song

About a month after Kevin and I started dating, he and his family took a vacation, a cruise to the Caribbean. I can’t say either of us was overjoyed at the thought of more than a week apart, but we emailed daily. Even though we had worked together for almost two years, and had cubicles less than six feet apart, there were still things we didn’t know about each other and this was a great chance to kind of catch up and fill in the blanks.

With Christmas coming, one of the questions I emailed him was this: “What’s your favorite Christmas song?” I laughed when I got his answer back, because, as I’d come to expect (and love), there was a Godfather connection. There’s a scene where Michael and Kay are shopping and Bing Crosby croons “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” in the background. So, obviously, that became Kev’s favorite holiday song.

We started a tradition that year, our first Christmas together, buying a new Christmas CD. As a joke, I got him The Chipmunks Christmas album and, wouldn’t you know…his favorite song was on it. We added to our collection each year and, more often than not, that song showed up on the track list.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
Our troubles will be out of sight

It’s funny how many Christmases we sang along to those lyrics, even in the middle of difficult circumstances. Right after we married, Kevin’s job was eliminated, so that Christmas was kind of hard. By the next year, he was working again, but infertility hounded us when we so desperately wanted to start a family. When our little Bear finally arrived, our hearts were light and we were thrilled and sure that everything was turning around. And it was good for a couple of years, until Kev was diagnosed with colon cancer.

We sang the song with special fervor that year, praying with every sweet note that the lyrics would come true:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yuletide gay,
From now on,
Our troubles will be miles away.

Chemotherapy kept the troubles at bay, sometimes, but we could never get out from under cancer’s shadow. Some years, he had chemo during Christmas; others, we were fortunate to have a break. Either way, we squeezed every bit of joy from the season of miracles, watching our Bear marvel at the tree and the lights and the nativity and Santa, watching her sparkle every bit as brightly as the decorations. And sometimes, just for a bit, it did seem like our troubles were miles away.

Right after Halloween this year, she asked if we could play her Dora Christmas CD in the truck. I agreed, so we started rockin’ around the Christmas tree pretty early this year, but we needed it and it was good. As November wore on, I added more holiday music to the playlist. And that’s when it happened.

The song.

I heard the opening notes and I froze, hands on the steering wheel, driving down the street, drowning in grief as the music flowed over me. My lips moved, silently singing the words, and tears tracked down my face.

“What’s wrong, Mama?” Her concerned voice floated from the back seat. But I couldn’t answer because my mind was pulling out so many memories, all jumbled together, overwhelming me. So many Christmases, so many years singing this song. So many versions, but all of them beautiful and haunting, lovely to listen to as we drove the dark snowy streets searching for holiday lights.

Here we are, as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

And now. Now he’s gone, but the song’s still here and the lyrics, always so melancholy, are too much this year. I want so badly for all our troubles to be miles away, to be gone – for Kevin to be back with us, gathered near to me, healthy and smiling, secretly loving that The Godfather got all entwined in our holiday.

And I can’t explain to Bear how I’m sad and happy at the same time. That grief doesn’t come and go, but it mixes itself up with the happy and the joy and the hope, and there’s no separating them, and that it’s impossibly possible to be crying and smiling and heartbroken and heart-filled at the same time. That the song will probably make me cry every single time this year, and that I can’t get away from it because it’s included on nearly every Christmas album we own, but that’s okay. I need to hear it, to sobbingly stumble through singing it, because it’s Daddy, little Bear, it’s your Daddy in those words and when I hear it, when I sing it, he’s here with me. It’s every beautiful, magical Christmas moment we shared and I need to feel the pain to feel the joy.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

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