O Holy Night.

When did this become Christmas Eve?

I go to church because Mom wants me to. I arrive annoyed, for no real reason. I don’t feel like shaking hands and making small talk and wishing MerryChristmasMerryChristmasMerryChristmas.

I sit very still, hoping I’ll be okay, but I know I won’t, and with every section of the story, every round of carols, I feel more and more miserable. The candle flames at the front start to swim, so I blink and blink and blink.

I have difficulty keeping up with the songs. I don’t really remember the words; I’ve only sung them hundreds of times. I can’t read music, so though I am an alto, I sing soprano because then I only have to follow the melody. I can’t do the really high notes very well.

I focus on the minister’s pendant. The candle light catches it from time to time and the flash of red is beautiful. I even manage to chuckle a couple of times. Thank you, children’s improv of cocker spaniels in antlers and tired camels in France.

By the time the benediction arrives it’s hard to breathe, and I sneak out as quickly as possible, offering a dazzling fake smile and a warm “Merry Christmas!” to anyone I happen to pass. I slip on my coat, no time to zip it up, and out the door, hoping to at least get to my car before I start sobbing. (No such luck.)

It’s hard to see, driving home, between crying and the rain. I make it, though, and soak my shoes through the slush in the driveway. I sit upstairs on the guest room bed, doubled over, crying so hard I can’t breathe.

Eventually the tide is stemmed, and I can clean my glasses and wash my face to remove the evidence. I change into my jammies and wonder why this always happens. Two years ago, Deb had just died. Last year I was with Andrew and his family and was, thankfully, distracted. Mostly. This year… I am still mourning this year. It feels like everything is lost, which, even in this state, I know is ridiculous. However. I am even more afraid of New Year’s than I was. I feel even more alone and hopeless than I have been.

Sleep will help. I’ll be okay tomorrow. And better once I’m home. Santa gets milk and cookies (or, in some homes, bagels and wine). What do you set out to appease ghosts?